Pharmacy practice has become political. As Congress debated a Medicare drug benefit, it became obvious that without a strong political presence pharmacy as a profession could be adversely affected. As I write this column, the conference committee is resolving the differences between the Senate and House versions of the Medicare drug bill. This legislation will certainly have long-term consequences for the role of pharmacists.
The fact that pharmacy practice is political is obvious because the Pharmacy Benefits All Coalition brought together most of the national pharmacy organizations to communicate a single message about the importance of a pharmacy service component in any drug benefit program. Because pharmacy united around this legislative proposal, it demonstrates how critical political decisions are to pharmacist activities.
Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and the Pharmacy Benefits All Coalition became antagonists. The money put into advertisements, public relation initiatives, and grassroots lobbying is further evidence that political decisions can adversely affect or stimulate the growth of different segments of the pharmacy industry.
Politics often brings together allies who have difficulty working together under most circumstances. We are seeing some of this in pharmacy today as former competitors have cooperated to achieve a political victory. Hopefully, what has been achieved through this cooperation will lead to improved communications, future collaborations, and even unified efforts.
When the political fights are over, antagonists often find ways to cooperate. Community pharmacy has an important role; PBMs also have a place. When they find ways to support each other and cooperate, everyone can win.
Finally, we must remember that political battles are never over. Laws can be changed and new laws can be passed, so constant vigilance is required. In politics, money often speaks, so contributions to support candidates and political action committees are important. If you have not been politically active, I hope that the last few months have been a wake-up call, and that the pharmacy industry can count on you to make its voice heard in the debates that will certainly occur again.