As a pharmacy owner, it can feel like you’re out there on an island by yourself. It can be a lonely feeling because you’re dealing with problems, sometimes for the first time. You don’t have a point of reference. You don’t have a friend you can call up. There are just a lot of situations that take place as an independent pharmacy owner that you can’t look up on the internet — NCPA helps independent pharmacy owners make those connections.
– B. Douglas Hoey
This lone venture is something all pharmacists can relate to, whether opening their own store for the first time or experimenting with something new in their store. Sure, you could go at it alone, but why should you, when there are thousands of other pharmacists who could share their insight with you — and you just might have some wisdom to share with them.
Doug Hoey discusses this “island mentality,” an idea his father often talked about as a practicing pharmacist. It was Hoey’s own father who purchased Hoey his NCPA membership. Twenty years later, Hoey is now the CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, or what he calls “the voice of independent pharmacy.”
For 119 years, NCPA (formerly known as the National Association of Retail Druggists) has recognized independent pharmacies as key members of American communities and entrepreneurship. These locally owned businesses are deeply rooted in their community’s overall health and success.
NCPA has worked to advocate for independent pharmacy and has created its own community where pharmacists can work together under one banner. “The members are everything. They’re the only reason we exist,” Hoey says of NCPA. “We have about 55 people on staff at NCPA, and from an advocacy standpoint, we have a pretty loud voice, but our purpose is serving as the megaphone for independent pharmacy owners; they give everything we say credibility.”
NCPA membership not only benefits the member, but also funds initiatives that benefit the entire pharmacy profession. NCPA President DeAnn Mullins of Mullins Pharmacy in Lynn Haven, Fla., says she had “early buy-in” with NCPA and has felt more informed and empowered since joining as a student. “One of my first classes in pharmacy school included learning about our professional associations,” she recounts. “We were encouraged to be active in our associations because membership was a professional responsibility. I will never forget my professor telling us, ’You’re investing heavily in becoming a pharmacist. If you aren’t at least writing a membership check, you’re a freeloader.’ That early shaming was a great motivator to always do my fair share, because really, who wants to be a freeloader?” Mullins knows that an active membership is an investment that pays for itself.
“NCPA has given me a voice,” she says. “It’s helped me facilitate relationships with pharmacists all over the country who I’ve learned from, fought battles with, and forged lifelong friendships with.”
These “battles” mostly center around the legislative and regulatory struggles all community pharmacists face. One of NCPA’s victories was taking legal action against CMS’ implementation of AMP (average manufacturer price), which analysts determined would have put thousands of community pharmacies out of business. Over the life of the court order, NCPA’s advocacy saved independent and chain pharmacies over five billion dollars. On a state level, NCPA has provided model legislation for states to work from as they customized the legislation for their state. “These are the building blocks for audit legislation, MAC (maximum allowable cost) legislation, ‘any willing provider’ legislation, and so on,” explains Hoey. The success of that legislation, however, depends on pharmacists who are active in their industry. “If we have a state that’s trying to get legislation passed, we’re going to be available to that state helping those pharmacists,” says Mullins. “NCPA doesn’t necessarily walk in with the connections to politicians at the state level; that’s our members with those local connections. Our members also have the relationships nationally, and we’re there to facilitate and help any way we can.” Other ways members can be actively involved range from the annual Congressional Pharmacy Fly-In (marking its 50th year in 2018) to simply filling out surveys that NCPA uses to gather information.
Of course, not every pharmacist is a member of NCPA. Non-members have their reasons for not joining, and members have heard them all: “Times are tough, and we have to cut expenses.” “There’s free CE online.” (Mullins notes that continuing education is not the primary benefit of joining NCPA.) Perhaps the most misleading excuse is “Why should I pay when I can reap the benefits for free?” Although everybody benefits from NCPA’s accomplishments, active members truly reap the benefits of joining NCPA. The National Community Pharmacists Association aggregates the power of 22,000 independent pharmacies, and other pharmacy entities are encouraging pharmacists to network and operate together, according to Hoey. “Certainly, NCPA is an avenue for pharmacists to get involved, but increasingly, in my opinion, the pharmacy management systems are another way to do it. Having a great system is more important today than it’s ever been,” he says. “Think of it this way: There are three entities that affect virtually every prescription that goes through every pharmacy. One, the PBM, which you don’t have control over. Second, your wholesaler. The third entity is your pharmacy management system. I’d add NCPA to be on the list of vital things in every pharmacy.” When you align yourself with the best, be it technology or associations, you are elevating your pharmacy to its highest potential.
Real, practicing pharmacists are the heart of NCPA. The pharmacists serving on the leadership team and volunteering for steering committees also face DIR (direct and indirect remuneration) fees and predatory audits back at home. Who better to represent you?
There is strength in unity. Invest in yourself and your profession, and make NCPA a vital part of your business.
PioneerRx | Journalist
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