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Getting a spot at the table by putting advocacy center stage


One thing independent community pharmacists know well is just how big an impact government regulations — from federal and state legislative level to regulatory agencies — have on their businesses. At Good Neighbor Pharmacy’s ThoughtSpot 2016, attendees were able to see the ways AmerisourceBergen advocates for their needs in Washington, D.C., and in state capitols across the country — and they were given a new tool to make advocating on their own behalf a more straightforward process, at a time when being involved is more critical than ever.

“If you don't stay active in the political process, there's definitely going to be a struggle for who gets to share in the healthcare dollars,” AmerisourceBergen President, Chairman and CEO Steve Collis told Drug Store News, noting the company has played a key role in being a voice for independent pharmacy in Washington, D.C., and in the states.

AmerisourceBergen’s advocacy on behalf of community pharmacy has been focused on several big issues at the federal level, while also keeping an eye on activity from the states. One of the main focuses has been provider status, which would designate pharmacists as providers under Medicare Part B, allowing them to be reimbursed for certain services. The bipartisan bill currently has 592 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 49 co-sponsors in the Senate, and is currently waiting for a cost assessment from the Congressional Budget Office.

AmerisourceBergen is tackling other issues around reimbursement, in particular direct and indirect remuneration fees. DIR fees, which were a key issue brought up at ThoughtSpot 2016 by attendees, are assessed by payers and pharmacy benefits managers, and sometimes aren’t completed until months after a sale is made, leaving pharmacists uncertain whether they lost or made money on a prescription. AmerisourceBergen’s Elevate Provider Network has signed a letter urging CMS to estimate these fees at point of sale.

“The critical issues like reimbursements, access to patients, provider status — making sure that there's the recognition pharmacies deserve and need to have to continue providing health care and access — are our fundamental pillars every day as we think about legislation at the federal and state level, and policies coming out of CMS,” AmerisourceBergen Vice President of Policy Stacie Heller told Drug Store News. Heller, alongside State Government Affairs Director Julie Eddy and Government Affairs Director Jason Money, gave a continuing education (CE) presentation during ThoughtSpot that outlined key issues facing pharmacy and how to advocate for the profession.

One of the pharmacists at Heller’s CE also happened to know first-hand the work it takes to create legislation with pharmacy in mind. Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter — the only pharmacist in Congress — was on hand at the CE session to take attendee questions and urge pharmacists to be their own advocate by reaching out to their state and federal representatives, trying to meet with them and even asking legislators to visit a practice setting to gain better knowledge of the way their business works and the impact it can have.

“Like it or not, politics plays a big part in our profession and it has a big impact on our practice — and we have to be involved,” Carter told Drug Store News. “The old saying goes if you're not at the table, you're on the menu. We need to be at the table and make sure we're taking up [our cause] for ourselves. ... It's important to [pharmacists], too, that they know they've got an advocate in Congress — and it's not just me. We've got a lot of good friends in Congress, and we need to make sure we're nurturing and growing those friendships.”

On the show floor, Carter was introduced to AmerisourceBergen’s new website for pharmacy advocacy, Our Independent Voice. Our Independent Voice offers users overviews of the biggest issues affecting pharmacy — both retail and long-term care pharmacy — including provider status and fair reimbursement. It also allows them to find their legislators by ZIP code and government level, while also providing a customizable letter template for reaching out to representatives.

“We're working to establish a conversation starter," Heller said. "We want to make sure that this is a tool that provides a communication or dialogue, ... [and] that we're providing a comprehensive look at all the issues that resonate with both independent retail and long-term care pharmacy."

“[Our Independent Voice] is a place where all our customers can go and learn about issues,” Bob Mauch, president of AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, told Drug Store News. “They can comment, give us feedback and find their legislators if they want to contact them.”

“It’s a big area of emphasis for us,” Mauch added. “If you are an independent pharmacist, or a pharmacy at all, you need to be active in Washington, D.C., and we are doing everything we can to facilitate that.”

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