R.Ph.s must act to protect profession

March 20, 2006

There have been times in pharmacy's history when things looked bleak. For example, back at the turn of the 20th century, pharmacists were afraid they were doomed because a fellow named Alexander Graham Bell had invented the telephone. Doomsday didn't come, of course, and some might accuse the profession of crying wolf on occasion.

But sometimes there really is a wolf, and 2006 is one of those times, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association, which has called on all pharmacists in all settings to take action to protect the profession from its many enemies. The rising threat of mail order has been joined by Medicare Part D's lower and slower reimbursements and already-enacted Medicaid reimbursement cuts of $6.3 billion and cuts of another $2.5 billion in President Bush's proposed 2007 budget. To add insult to pharmacy's injury, Bush justified his proposed Medicaid cuts by "basically saying pharmacists are crooks," said Bruce Roberts, NCPA executive VP-CEO.

Outside forces, including politicians, the government, and pharmacy benefit managers are trying to turn medications into just another commodity and to disenfranchise retail pharmacy, said Roberts. "It's painfully obvious what's up with regard to pharmacy. I don't think we'll be able to continue down this path and have a sustainable model for the long term. Mail order is growing like crazy. People believe that all we're selling is widgets, nothing that inherently needs the guidance of a pharmacist. If we're just a business model competing head-to-head with mail order, it doesn't bode well for the future."

"We, as a profession, have not done a good job of getting the Asheville Project type of activity accepted across pharmacy and pharmacists delivering it," said Roberts. "If we sit on our duffs and let things take their course, I really think retail pharmacy will become a thing of the past. We can't allow that to occur. It is incumbent on us to bring solutions to the table."

Items high on NCPA's agenda for 2006 include broad adoption of Community MTM Services, the medication therapy management solution slated for a June debut; offering creative ways Medicaid programs can save money without destroying the pharmacist-patient relationship; working with the states to ensure fair compensation for pharmacists' services; lobbying for legislation to correct Part D problems; and continued opposition to mandatory mail order.

For its part, NCPA urged pharmacists to take the following actions: