Prioritizing with NCPA’s new head of government affairs
Retail pharmacy and policy veteran John Coster joined the National Community Pharmacists Association in late January as SVP government affairs, succeeding Charlie Sewell. The move rounds out a long history of service to both chain and independent pharmacy for Coster, who was the high-profile VP policy and programs for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores before serving as VP federal affairs and public policy for Rite Aid Corp.
He discussed his goals for NCPA in a lengthy interview following his appointment.
Drug Store News: What are the major goals you have as NCPA’s chief advocate on Capitol Hill?
John Coster: We have tremendous support among legislators for an expanded role for pharmacy. So my goal is to work with our members—who are the real entrepreneurial spirits in pharmacy—to try to find a way to solidify the gains that pharmacy has made over the past decade, moving toward our patient-care goals as part of health reform.
DrSN: Will you be doing a lot of direct lobbying yourself on Capitol Hill, or will you have a team of people to interact with House and Senate staffers and lawmakers?
Coster: There’s a very strong group of lobbyists, policy analysts and advocates here, and I’m excited about working with them. I will lobby directly myself, as well, but we’ll also rely on our members to be active and aggressive in protecting their businesses and their patients’ interests. So I think it will be a combination of setting goals involving our members, communications [and] letting members of Congress know what we can do. I’m just one piece of the puzzle.
DrSN: Do you foresee yourself still being a visible presence at association meetings and being a liaison between NCPA and other pharmacy groups?
Coster: We’ve been working with all the pharmacy groups on health reform principles, doing joint meetings with them on Capitol Hill. I think all of pharmacy recognizes the historic opportunity now to advance the patient care role of the pharmacist, and that we can’t let that pass by.
There’s more that unites us than divides us, and this is a unique opportunity for pharmacy to take advantage of the healthcare reform debate.
DrSN: Obviously, you’ve worked from the chain side of pharmacy from your time with NACDS. In that role, you’ve already worked with NCPA and other groups to find common ground.
Coster: Yeah, and we’re trying to work on common legislation and finding common champions to benefit all sides of our industry.
United Drugs and Associated Pharmacies merger to combine strengths
Behind the decision by United Drugs and Associated Pharmacies to merge is one overriding theme: a national, integrated cooperative of more than 2,000 pharmacies all rowing in roughly the same direction is a force to be reckoned with.
In today’s economic maelstrom, it may also mean the difference between success and failure for many of the independent pharmacy operators operating under the combined United-Associated umbrella.
This economy — which is chewing up many smaller businesses, drying up demand for all manner of goods and services, and throwing hundreds of thousands of workers a week off corporate payrolls — leaves little room for error. And the financial meltdown makes operating an independent drug store — not an easy proposition in the best of times — a daunting prospect. Any combination of buying and marketing co-ops that can boost efficiencies and/or beef up the menu of services or purchasing clout of their members has to be a topic of serious consideration.
What’s more, merging the memberships of United and API creates one of the nation’s largest independent pharmacy networks, on a par with McKesson Corp.’s Health Mart franchise operation, Cardinal Health’s Leader umbrella program for independents and its Medicine Shoppe franchise pharmacy brand, or AmerisourceBergen’s Good Neighbor Pharmacy store-service and branding program. Only a handful of drug, supermarket or mass merchandise chains field as big a store network.
But many questions remain, even assuming the merger is approved. Among them: how will the combined programs squeeze new operating efficiencies and a stronger service program for their members out of their marriage? What additional steps need to be taken in this kind of unforgiving market to unite the 2,000 pharmacies under a stronger marketing, advertising and branding umbrella? Will there be a unified national advertising and pricing strategy? And, finally, will the members of both groups embrace the combination as a long-term benefit to their business?
Carmel Pharma designates April National Safe Handling Awareness Month
COLUMBUS, Ohio Carmel Pharma has designated April as National Safe Handling Awareness Month, and April 20 as National Safe Handling Awareness Day.
The company said the purpose of the month was to educate healthcare workers about safe handling of drugs and protect them from hazardous drug exposure. According to an alert published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, exposure to hazardous drugs can lead to skin rashes, infertility, miscarriages, birth defects and possibly cancer.
Carmel Pharma will sponsor a free webcast April 20 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EST, followed by a live “ask the experts” session. The webcast will be part of a month of regional and national continuing education activities.