It is tough to make your voice heard in Congressand for too long pharmacy has often been a loser when Congress creates new legislation.
With an increasing number of legislative issues that directly affect us, this problem is becoming even more important. It is not just Part D. Many other threats are looming, such as changes in Medicaid reimbursement and mandatory mail order for military personnel.
This is why a recent initiative by the National Community Pharmacists Association and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores is a promising one. The 2 organizations have formed the Coalition for Community Pharmacy Action, which promises to represent community pharmacies with "one strong voice."
To quote the coalition's Web site (www.rxaction.org), "For the first time in the history of the pharmacy profession, all of the nation's 55,000 community pharmaciesboth chain and independentwill be represented with a single voice on legislative and regulatory issues of common interest."
Let's hope this coalition can live up to that goal. It is vital that we present a united front in order to maximize our influence.
Signs are visible that the sponsoring associations are serious. The coalition has a multimillion-dollar annual budgetmuch more than pharmacy organizations have previously spent on legislative activities.
Could the coalition be more effective if it was even broader? When forming the coalition, the associations talked to another group that has been remarkably effective at drawing attention to pharmacists' concerns.
The group is the Association of Community Pharmacists Congressional Network (ACPCN). You may have heard ofor participated inone of its best-known campaigns, triggered by President Bush's notorious comment last year about preventing overcharging by pharmacists. Pharmacists mailed lawmakers pill bottles containing a penny, with a note explaining that this was the current value of their pharmacies as a result of Part D and other initiatives.
Could pharmacy's larger institutions learn from this group? Certainlyand we are glad that they have been talking. Might it become even more closely involved with the coalition? The ACPCN says it has not been invited to join, and since it is not a membership organization and is solely focused on legislative changes, it can continue to work with all community pharmacists.
Whatever happens, we do not have time to spare.
Mr. Eckel is professor and director of the Office of Practice Development and Education at the School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.