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McKesson Public Policy Forum urges advocacy, briefs independents on key pharmacy issues in Congress

BY Michael Johnsen

Pharmacy advocacy makes a difference.

And while independent pharmacy owners also got perspective on key legislation that could have a profound and lasting impact both on their businesses and the profession of pharmacy, that message was perhaps the most important takeaway from the McKesson ideaShare Public Policy Forum last month in Chicago — advocacy matters.

Moderated by McKesson SVP corporate public affairs Pete Slone, and featuring a special appearance from U.S. Rep. E. L. “Buddy” Carter, R-Ga. — the only member of Congress who is a pharmacist — the Public Policy Forum, which kicked off the last day of business at McKesson ideaShare 2016, offered an important update on key policy issues both currently facing federal lawmakers as well as a look ahead at legislation that is likely to come down the pike.

Carter outlined the bills most critical to the independent retail pharmacy community today, including MAC transparency, any willing provider and provider status. “I may be the only pharmacist currently serving in Congress, but folks we’ve got a lot of friends of pharmacy,” he said. “A lot of those friends are due to your relationship with them. That’s what’s very important.”

To help McKesson’s independent and small- to mid-sized chain customers connect with key lawmakers in their areas and leverage those relationships to help promote and protect pro-pharmacy and pro-patient access related issues, Slone announced the launch of a new advocacy tool, the McKesson Policy Action Network. “Advocacy really does make a difference,” Slone said. “As many as 90% of Congressional staff believes that individual communications from constituents are really what impacts decision-making by members of Congress. Constituent views do matter.”

Housed on the McKesson Connect Community website, the new Policy Action Network “is another way for you to share best practices, generate letters to your elected officials and engage your peers in the policy debate of the day,” Slone explained. “There are more players and more sophisticated players on the field than ever before. It’s increasingly difficult to bring an issue to the forefront in Washington and in state capitals, particularly in the context of 24/7 news cycles. New multi-stakeholder alliances and grassroots efforts are going to have to be the difference maker going forward.”

Joining Carter and Slone on stage for a frank and emotionally-charged peer-to-peer panel discussion, Mary Caldwell, owner of City Pharmacy in Elkton, Md., and Mike Deninger, owner of Towncrest Pharmacy in Iowa City, Iowa, shared stories of how engaging with their local lawmakers, and proactively participating in the legislative process has helped each of their businesses.

Carter briefs DSN on pharmacy-related legislative agenda
Following the Public Policy Forum, Carter sat with Drug Store News for an exclusive interview on the current state of the key policy issues facing community pharmacy.

Regarding provider status — “which is critical if the full cost-savings impact pharmacy can deliver to health care is to be realized,” Congressman Carter explained — “support for the legislation is widespread and growing across both sides of the aisle,” he told DSN.

“The pushback we get from some members of Congress, both in the House and in the Senate, is that we don’t know how much it’s going to cost,” he said. “I don’t see any pushback at all coming from anyone who thinks that it shouldn’t happen. Right now, we’re waiting on the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the price so that we can figure out how we’re going to offset it.”

“While it’s still technically possible that provider status legislation could be signed by the end of the year, it’s much more likely the bill would be passed sometime in 2017,” Congressman Carter said.

Carter also briefed DSN on the status of two other important bills for retail pharmacy — MAC and any willing provider legislation.
“On MAC transparency, we’ve come close to getting that added as an amendment to some bills. I think we’re going to have the opportunity to get that done at some point in the near future,” he said.

“With any willing provider, … we’re going to have to have a strong voice from the rural community, making sure that they are communicating to their legislators just what the problem is,” Congressman Carter said, again urging pharmacy operators to become engaged in the process. For patients living in rural areas, their neighborhood pharmacist may be the only healthcare provider for miles around, he said.

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