Despite the heroic efforts made by so many in dealing with the pandemic, pharmacy still faces several daunting problems. Real obstacles need to be overcome. The good news is we now have the attention of the media and the government officials who can help address these issues.The positive press and accolades being heaped upon retail pharmacy over the past few months are impressive and well deserved. The professionalism, compassion, and extra effort that dedicated pharmacy professionals have committed to testing and vaccinating against COVID-19 are being justly recognized.
Pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) abuses, despite a landmark Supreme Court ruling, still exist. Obtaining provider status at both the state and federal level is another major opportunity. Working conditions in many chain pharmacies have become unsustainable.
Enhanced care services are helping patients get better care and lowering the cost of that care. Negative social determinants of health could be overcome by retail pharmacies if adequate reimbursement were to be provided. Point-of-care and pharmacogenetic testing is proving effective in helping people get treated quickly and appropriately. The opioid pandemic is still a major problem in our society.
The point being, real problems persist that can best be addressed by legislative and regulatory reform. With the positive press pharmacy has received, the time has come for pharmacists, no matter the practice setting, to reach out to elected officials and regulators and make the case for how pharmacy can help solve these persistent healthcare problems. Let government officials and other people of influence know you can do much more than help with COVID-19.
As you interact with government officials, it is important that you share examples of how the current situation has a negative effect on consumers. The fact that you are often forced to sell medications below cost is a sad reality. And the sadder fact is that most people don’t care about your profitability. The point to be made is that people — shall I say voters — are suffering, and taxpayers are being shortchanged by your inability to provide the care you are trained to deliver. Keep the focus on helping solve problems that elected officials and regulators confront. That is what will motivate them to act.
One great way to do this is to join — and become a proactive member of — your state pharmacy association and a national pharmacy association of your choosing. With your help, your state association can help pass laws, define regulations, and deal with state agencies that decide on practice parameters, reimbursement rates, and other critical issues. The National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations (NASPA) has a website with each state’s contact information: www.naspa.us.
In addition to government efforts, you should challenge your vendor partners to get involved. Every company that markets a product, program, or service it hopes to sell to you should be actively engaged in helping to pass legislation that will allow you to use your professional skills and be properly reimbursed. After all, their success depends on the success of retail pharmacy. We are all in this together.
Politicians are often quoted as saying, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Perhaps it is a bit crass, but the time has come for pharmacists to take advantage of the goodwill they have earned in this crisis. Take an active role and join with your peers to approach the government agencies that affect your profession and show them what else pharmacists can do. So, to answer the question, “Now what?” I say, “Pharmacists working together to open new doors of opportunity, that’s what!” CT
Bruce Kneeland is an independent pharmacy veteran, author, and podcaster. He can be reached at BFKneeland@gmail.com and listened to at www.pharmacycrossroads.com