Cardinal Health RBC 2016 panel highlights impact, potential of pharmacy advocacy


Given that 51% of prescriptions in the average pharmacy are for Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries, independent pharmacists know just how the business of pharmacy and public policy are inextricably linked. And at Cardinal Health RBC 2016, the ways pharmacists can have an impact on the legislative process were front and center.

During Cardinal Health RBC 2016’s Opening Session, host Eva Saha moderated a panel discussion about pharmacy advocacy, featuring Cardinal Health SVP Independent Sales Steve Lawrence, Healthcare Distribution Alliance SVP Kristen LaRose Freitas, National Community Pharmacists Association President and CEO Doug Hoey and Bronx-based independent pharmacist and President of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York Roger Paganelli.

Paganelli kicked off the panel by discussing one of the tangible effects his involvement as a member of PSSNY has had on the profession, pointing to a New York law taking effect this year that focuses on multi-source generics pricing (MACs), creating a way for disputes to be appealed, investigated and resolved. The law requires pharmacy benefits managers to respond to pharmacy-filed appeals within seven days. If an appeal is deemed valid, all other pharmacies in the network will see the maximum allowable cost adjusted.

“When we are reimbursed less than what we pay for a prescription, we wanted the opportunity to go back to the PBMs and say, 'You paid us less than what we paid for this. It's not fair. We want it back,’” Paganelli said.

On the national level, HDA’s LaRose Freitas touted the speed with which pharmacy owners and other stakeholders came together to lobby Congress to pass a bill that worked to combat the prescription drug abuse epidemic, while ensuring legitimate patients could get access to their medication. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act was signed by President Barack Obama in April. The law clarifies some Drug Enforcement Agency regulations, while allowing pharmacies to correct any identified issues with medication before corrective action is taken.

“I think sometimes people feel like their voice isn't heard, but this legislation is an example of how pharmacy groups and patient groups asked for some guidance and clarity in DEA regulations and were ultimately successful,” LaRose Freitas said. “This was legislation that moved extremely quickly. Congress heard there was a problem that needed to be addressed, and they did it in a bipartisan way.”

Alongside the legislative victories are ongoing efforts that Hoey discussed, including one of the most anticipated issues awaiting congressional action — giving pharmacists provider status under Medicare Part B. The legislation, which has 290 House members and 49 senators as co-sponsors, is currently awaiting action by the Congressional Budget Office.

In addition, the NCPA has had a big hand in asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to issue a guidance that would address direct and indirect remuneration fees, which can be assessed by PBMs and plans months after a prescription is dispensed. The guidance NCPA is pushing for would require those fees to be disclosed at point of sale.

“It's not a cure all, but at least it's a step forward in being able to make some business decisions,” Hoey said.

Throughout the panel discussion, participants emphasized the impact that pharmacists who get involved in the process of lobbying lawmakers can have simply by reaching out to their representative. And Lawrence left RBC attendees with a call to action, highlighting the only pharmacist in Congress, Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-Ga.

“We need more pharmacists throughout state and national levels,” Lawrence said, adding that advocacy is equally important. “[Lawmakers] need to understand what you do every day so they can pass the right legislation and you can take care of your patients the way you want to. Doug said it best, and I’ve heard other people say it — you need to get into politics or get out of pharmacy — and you should take that to heart and get involved.”

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