Representing the profession: Georgia pharmacist Carter elected to Congress
Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), BSPharm, became the only pharmacist currently elected to Congress on November 4, 2014. Carter owns Carter’s Pharmacy Inc., with three Georgia locations in Pooler, Rincon, and Garden City. “This morning, I was sweeping out front and picking up trash in the parking lot,” Carter said shortly after Election Day in an interview with Pharmacy Today. Every small business owner does whatever job has to be done. “There’s no job above us or below us,” he said. “We continue to keep the doors open, and that’s what I’m trying to do, and will continue to do.”
Carter is from the Savannah area of Georgia—born and raised in a city called Port Wentworth. “I grew up there, so I’m a product of the First Congressional District,” he said. “I’m very proud of that.” He has served as Mayor of Pooler and a Georgia state representative and state senator. Carter won his race in Georgia’s First Congressional District 61% to 39%. “First of all, we received a tremendous amount of support from pharmacists all throughout the country, and we were just humbled by that,” Carter said. “You know a pharmacist from Georgia can represent a pharmacist in Idaho or Illinois or any other part of the country.”
He continued, “That’s why it’s so vitally important that we have a member of our profession at the table because, you know, the old saying goes, ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re on the menu.’ We need to make sure we’re not on the menu.”
Carter is being sworn into office as a Member of Congress on January 6, 2015—the day the 114th Congress formally convenes.
Changes in pharmacy
As he returns pharmacy to Congress—former Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR), BSPharm, represented Arkansas’s First Congressional District from 1997 to 2011—Carter thinks provider status recognition is essential to the future of his profession. He hopes to articulate to his colleagues in Congress just how clinically knowledgeable today’s pharmacists are. “It has evolved way past just seeing how many prescriptions you can fill in a day,” he said. “Pharmacists are a vital part of the health care team. They need to be recognized as such, and compensated as such.”
An APhA member who has spoken at APhA meetings, he supports the legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 4190 on March 11, 2014, during the last Congress. To be reintroduced in this Congress with a new bill number, the legislation would amend Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to enable patient access to, and coverage for, Medicare Part B services by state-licensed pharmacists in medically underserved communities. Carter described two Georgias: urban, and rural. In the rural areas, access to health care is a big concern, he said. Pharmacists are among the most accessible health professionals. As a state legislator, he never felt that recent pharmacy graduates were being fully utilized. Given pharmacists’ skill set, Carter seeks “access to health care available for all of the citizens of Georgia.”
A practicing pharmacist for more than 30 years in the same general area of southeastern Georgia, Carter believes the profession has transformed more in the past 5 years than in all of the preceding 25 years because of a proliferation of third-party payers. “It’s changing so rapidly right now, and I’m a free-market guy,” he said. “And you know, it was never easy. But it used to be where all you had to do was just to give good customer service,” he said. With good customer service, a pharmacy could retain customers and gain new customers from its reputation. Now pharmacies such as his are “not given the chance to compete,” he said, referring to Medicare drug plans’ preferred networks.
“Your patients become like your family,” Carter said. But in recent years, their freedom of choice has been limited so much by their insurance companies, he said, that “they have to leave. They literally leave in tears. Either they can’t get coverage in our pharmacy because we’re not a preferred provider, or the difference in the copay is so significant that it’s just not even reasonable for them to come to our pharmacy.” Yet these customers remain loyal as “friends, and still support us in every way that they can,” he continued. “It’s just very frustrating and it’s sad in a lot of ways,” he said, “but listen, it’s still good. It’s still good. I still love the profession. I love independent retail pharmacy, and I love pharmacy.”
One of the joys of the profession for Carter has been building relationships with families for generations. Many customers, over the years, “have grown older and gone on to greater rewards. We have their family now. We’ve become the family pharmacy. We have their children, their grandchildren, and they’ve become customers,” he said. “That’s really a good feeling as well.”
Carter said his election to Congress was “quite an honor—just having grown up in this area, and having served the people in this area, first as mayor and then in the state legislature, and now as their representative in Washington, DC. It’s very humbling, and just a tremendous honor.”
Pharmacists are providers
As a teen, Carter’s dream was to be a star athlete. His dad made an arrangement with him that if no college scouts came to see him, after his junior year, he’d think more seriously about a future outside of football. “I don’t know what happened, but they didn’t come to see me. And I decided to get a job,” he said. He started working at a pharmacy after school and during the summer, as a delivery driver. Quite often, he was the only person whom homebound patients would see all day long when he delivered their medications.
“I fell in love with it immediately,” Carter recalled. “I’m an outgoing person, and I love dealing with the public. It’s exactly what I wanted to do. It was a tremendous opportunity for me.” He graduated from Young Harris College and the University of Georgia, where he earned his pharmacy degree. “I was working for someone else and then went out in business for myself, and of course I had a lot of people follow me when I opened my own business.”
Carter married his college sweetheart. They’ve been married for 36 years and have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and twin granddaughters. The past year and a half has been devoted mostly to the campaign, a $1.4 million endeavor with half a million dollars of his personal money. He works every day to manage his business, but doesn’t work very much anymore as the pharmacist on duty. He noted, “I still maintain my license and I still fill prescriptions.”
Left to right: Sarah Klingenberg; Phillip Fordham, field director for the campaign; Carter; and his wife, Amy Carter, on election night.
Pharmacists have an impact on people’s lives, Carter said. “You know some of my customers confide in me, and I take that very seriously. They depend on me, and depend on my business, and depend on their pharmacists,” he said. “We are health care providers.”
Pharmacist advocacy tips
“Any pharmacist who thinks politics does not play a role in their profession is simply wrong. Politics plays a role, and government plays a role,” Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), BSPharm, told Today. “You need to be politically involved because it’s going to have an impact on your practice,” regardless of setting.
He continued, “Without the grassroots network in place to call an individual Congressman or call the individual state legislators, then the system won’t work.” (For more information, see page 70.)
Carter suggested e-mails, letters, and phone calls—“they don’t take very long at all”—and inviting elected representatives to visit the pharmacy “so that you develop a personal relationship with them. They get to know you,” he said. “And when the pharmacy issue comes up, they think about you and perhaps even reach out to you.”