Medicare Chief, Huckabee Stress Pharmacists' Key Role


Pharmacist-provided services are critical to delivering high-quality, cost-effective care, decision makers said in opening remarks at NCPA's annual meeting.

Pharmacist-provided services are critical to delivering high-quality, cost-effective care, decision makers said in opening remarks at NCPA’s annual meeting.

“There’s never been a more important time for pharmacy,” according to Donald Berwick, MD, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

In his speech to attendees of the National Community Pharmacists Association’s (NCPA) 113th Annual Convention & Trade Exposition, the former pediatrician and known health innovator said pharmacists’ combination of medication expertise and accessibility are needed to meet today’s health care challenges. The address was delivered via video at a kick-off event held October 9, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.

An outspoken advocate for collaborative care, Dr. Berwick mentioned the Million Hearts Campaign and the Partnership for Patients as examples of public-private initiatives that bring pharmacists into the fold to ensure the proper use of medication and improve therapeutic outcomes. Citing the importance of pharmacist-provided medication therapy management, Dr. Berwick “expressed his appreciation for all that pharmacists do for patient care,” reported Kevin Schweers, NCPA’s vice president of public affairs.

Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also took to the podium for a keynote address. He focused on independent pharmacists’ role in delivering core services—such as screening for drug interactions and educating patients—within a community setting. Speaking of the family-owned pharmacy he frequents, Huckabee said, “I know they care not just about getting my prescription right but about getting my community right.”

Although his speech was anchored in personal experiences, Huckabee didn’t shy away from the issues facing independent pharmacy. According to Schweers, Huckabee “appeared to express concern” over the Express Scripts-Medco merger and its impact on pharmacists’ ability to deliver patient education and other services. “Part of prevention is good health management, and good health management does not come through the mail,” said Huckabee.

The pithy statement speaks to a pressing concern of NCPA members—that cost cutting initiatives by pharmacy benefit managers will squeeze independents out of the picture. According to a poll on the conference Web site, 65% consider mandatory mail order a “top challenge” in the business. Outgoing NCPA President Robert Greenwood, RPh, remains optimistic about independent pharmacy’s prospects in the evolving health care system, however.

Patients still prefer the top-notch customer service they get at independent pharmacies, he noted in his address at the kickoff event. Greenwood also said opportunities for pharmacists lie ahead in emerging health care delivery models, such as patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations. As adherence becomes top priority to control costs and improve outcomes for chronic disease, he added that adherence counseling should be “fully and formally integrated by all community pharmacists by 2015.”

Above all, Greenwood emphasized the pharmacist’s value as a trusted community health resource. Recounting his year as president of NCPA, he said, “I stood on the shoulders of giants, the pharmacists, the lifeblood of their communities and towns.”

The NCPA 113th Annual Convention & Trade Exposition will continue through Wednesday, October 12, 2011. To learn more about the program, visit the convention resource center or download NCPA's preliminary program.

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