APhA members unite to advocate for pharmacy patients
APhA members representing 31 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia gathered last week to flex their political muscles at the organization’s first virtual congressional conference. Over the course of the 3-day conference, participants got a crash course on crucial pharmacy practice legislation, worked with colleagues on advocacy strategy, and met with Members of Congress and their staff.
Standing up for patients and profession
During a total of 145 meetings, the APhA members urged their lawmakers to support 2 pieces of legislation that would expand access to pharmacists’ care, save money for patients and the health care system, and improve health outcomes. The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (H.R. 2759/S. 1362) seeks to allow pharmacists in underserved communities to receive Medicare Part B reimbursement for services that are allowed under their state’s scope of pharmacy practice. The Pharmacy DIR Reform to Reduce Senior Drug Costs Act (H.R. 3554/S. 1909) looks to end retroactive direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees, standardize pharmacy quality measures, and require that Medicare Part D sponsors provide an annual report of claim-level data on pharmacy price concessions and incentives. Both bills were introduced in the U.S. House and Senate earlier this year.
APhA continues to aggressively push for the bills’ passage, but as the organization said in a statement, pharmacists and pharmacy stakeholders must get involved in advocacy efforts if they are to succeed: “Your stories and your patients’ stories are key to persuading lawmakers to do the right thing for the health care system and for the well-being of all Americans. When legislators get to know you, our message comes to life.”
Advocacy boot camp
The first day of the event was a webinar moderated by Alicia Kerry Mica, APhA senior lobbyist, for which attendees could collect continuing education credit. The webinar’s presenters were Ben Link, PharmD, vice president of pharmacy at 3 Axis Advisors, who has served as a pharmacy technician, clinical pharmacist, and clinical account manager for Medicaid; and Ilisa Bernstein, PharmD, JD, FAPhA, APhA senior vice president of pharmacy practice and government affairs, who held high-level positions at FDA prior to her APhA tenure.
Link gave an in-depth presentation about how pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) continue to operate without any transparency or accountability. Bernstein discussed the 2 proposed bills and their most important aspects. She also gave some tips and recommendations about how to discuss the bills with legislators.
On the second day, APhA held an interactive session where participants could ask members of the APhA Board of Trustees about their experiences of conducting Capitol Hill meetings. Board members and other pharmacists discussed strategies that had worked for them and things that had surprised them in previous meetings with legislators. The night ended with breakout rooms that split pharmacists into their respective states to strategize for their upcoming meetings.
The congressional conference culminated with 115 APhA members conducting 145 meetings with legislators or their aides. They represented Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Being an advocate
By meeting with legislators and aides, pharmacists hoped to build working relationships in which they can be called on as trusted members of their communities and the health care team.
Colorado’s Laurrie Lorenzo, PharmD, recalled passionately explaining to a legislative aide that “[no] other industry is able to set a price for its product after the point of sale. DIR fees or price concessions are the equivalent of extortion and are illegal.” That hurts patients and communities, she emphasized.
Starlin Haydon-Greatting, MS-MPH, BSPharm, CDM, FAPhA, whose home state is Illinois, found the experience meaningful. “It was so exhilarating to spend 2 days reaching out virtually to my legislators and their staff,” she said. “I actually really enjoyed the virtual experience because I was able to see many more representatives than if I [were] navigating the Hill on foot!”
Johanna Taylor Katroscik, PharmD, APhA executive resident