As the only pharmacist serving in Congress, US Representative Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-Georgia) is a critical leader of efforts to pass federal legislation pertinent to pharmacists.
 
In light of this, Pharmacy Times recently spoke with the first-term US Congressman, House Community Pharmacy Caucus co-chair, and Carter’s Pharmacy, Inc, owner about his pharmacy past and political progress.
 
Q: Why did you become a pharmacist?
Rep. Carter: It’s an interesting story. I was an athlete in high school and I made a deal with my father that if no scouts came to look at me, I would get a job. No scouts showed up, but my father didn’t want me to go into his line of work, so I got a job at a pharmacy and loved it.
 
I ended up obtaining my Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy from the University of Georgia in 1980, and I couldn’t wait for the next steps in my new profession.
 
Q: What part of the pharmacy profession stands out to you?
Rep. Carter: I love heath care—it’s a noble profession—and I absolutely loved the interaction with people. Helping out the people who came into the pharmacy was the best part for me.
 
Q: How did you get into politics?
Rep. Carter: I was involved in leadership positions at my church. I was also president of my freshman class in college. I just wanted to do something and kept moving up the ladder.
 
I opened my pharmacy business in 1988, got on the planning board, and served in the Georgia General Assembly. I was also a mayor, and now I’m in Congress.
 
Q: Have you maintained your pharmacist license while serving in Congress?
Rep. Carter: I haven’t been practicing as a pharmacist because congressional law prohibits it. Active members of Congress cannot practice their profession.
 
As for the businesses (3 pharmacies in all), I’ve transferred ownership to my wife. However, I keep myself involved when I can.
 
Q: What is it like to be a pharmacist in Congress?
Rep. Carter: It’s good being the only pharmacist in Congress. People gravitate towards me because I know the issues. My colleagues come to me with questions and for general information about the pharmacy field.
 
Q: How has being a pharmacist helped you understand and tackle legislative issues?
Rep. Carter: My health care and pharmacy background has helped me tremendously. Being a community pharmacist has helped me understand patients—including patient care and patient choice—and all of the hot-button issues. I want to make sure patients have choices and access.
 
Q: What pharmacy-related objectives are on your to-do list in Congress?
Rep. Carter: Right now, I am working on 3 bills: HR 244 [pharmacy benefit manager (PBM)] transparency), HR 793 (“any willing pharmacy”), and HR 592 (pharmacist provider status).
 
I’m trying to get these 3 bills passed. It is what I am focusing on now. I’m using my pharmacy background to help the members of Congress understand the importance of these bills.
 
Q: What are your thoughts about pharmacist provider status legislation and how are you advancing HR 592?
Rep. Carter: This legislation is paramount to the advancement of pharmacies and pharmacists. 
 
The current pharmacy practice is light years ahead of what the practice was when I was going through school. Pharmacists now know more about clinical education for patients than ever before.  
 
I am working with US Representative Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky) to garner additional cosponsors and ensure that the Energy and Commerce Committee brings the bill up for debate. We are garnering much support for this bill with over 200 sponsors so far. The sooner we can get this bill to the House Floor, the sooner patients will be able to take full advantage of all the important skills pharmacists have today. 
 
Q: What are your thoughts about PBM transparency legislation and how are you advancing HR 244?
Rep. Carter: HR 244 is a key component to making sure patients get the full benefit of a free-market health care system. Having middlemen who control both the reimbursement rate and the cost to insurance companies creates the perfect environment for price gouging. 
 
I am working with my fellow Georgian, US Representative Doug Collins (R-Georgia), to add additional cosponsors to the bill so that the committees of jurisdiction will consider the bill for debate.
 
Q: What are your thoughts about “any willing pharmacy” legislation and how are you advancing HR 793?
Rep. Carter: Preferred networks for pharmacies are another reason why many independent pharmacists are closing their doors. Being born and raised in Southeast Georgia, one of the specific concerns I have is the medically underserved community. 
 
Americans should be able to use whatever pharmacy they wish as long as that pharmacy meets the insurance plan’s terms and conditions.  HR 793 will go a long way in making sure that medically underserved communities can access their pharmacies without wondering whether or not their insurance plan will cover them. 
 
The most important thing is to get people to understand the problem and the bill. I speak to other members on the House Floor regularly about the importance of the bill and why cosponsors are vital.
 
Q: What more do you plan to do to advance these 3 bills?
Rep. Carter: We are also working to involve advocacy groups. I regularly speak with pharmacy groups and encourage them to become more involved so they are able to educate their members and their representatives in the House and the Senate about the importance of each of these bills.
 
Q: What efforts is the House Community Pharmacy Caucus making to help community pharmacists?
Rep. Carter: The House Community Pharmacy Caucus regularly sponsors letters to the FDA and US Department of Health and Human Services about the different issues facing community pharmacists, including compounding issues. 
 
The Caucus also holds a health fair every year in October (American Pharmacists Month) that allows people on Capitol Hill to have their blood sugar, cholesterol, bone density, and body mass index checked, and to also get a flu shot. We do this while trying to educate everyone about the importance of pharmacists and the current initiatives we are working on.