NCPA Speakers Call for Pharmacists to Become Health Care Leaders

At NCPA's Annual Convention, community pharmacists examine the importance of politics to the advancement of the profession and focus on the impact health care reform will have behind the counter.

At NCPA's Annual Convention, community pharmacists examine the importance of politics to the advancement of the profession and focus on the impact health care reform will have behind the counter.

“Get into politics or get out of pharmacy!” This mantra from Douglas Hoey, RPh, acting executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), set the tone for the Second General Session and Government Affairs Forum held yesterday during NCPA’s 112th Annual Convention and Trade Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In his introduction to the session, which featured keynote speakers Donna Shalala and Michael Leavitt, both former secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Hoey stressed that community pharmacy is stronger than ever, serving both as a viable career choice for young pharmacists and as a political force to be reckoned with in Washington, DC.

Hoey noted that NCPA’s political action committee (PAC), NCPAPAC, has jumped in the rankings of trade association PACs from somewhere in the thousands to number 40. Thanks to NCPAPAC’s increasing political clout, the voices of community pharmacists have been and continue to be heard by lawmakers. Hoey urged the session’s audience to remain engaged politically, particularly with legislation relating to average manufacturer price and pharmacy benefit management, and to recruit colleagues to work for the interests of community pharmacy.

In the lively discussion that followed, moderated by NCPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs John Coster, RPh, PhD, former HHS Secretaries Shalala and Leavitt explained the political process behind the implementation of legislation as massive as the Affordable Care Act and the role that community pharmacists can play.

The speakers explained that implementation begins with rulemaking, which is the process of dividing a bill into more specific rules or mandates. Leavitt noted that agencies charged with rulemaking, like HHS, value input from “people on the ground,” like pharmacists, because they can provide perspective on the feasibility of the rules they draft. Shalala urged community pharmacists to communicate a strong, united message through as many channels as possible, a tactic she dubbed the “Boom Boom Theory,” because rulemakers never draft perfect rules the first time.

Both secretaries also stated that pharmacists are likely to see their roles change significantly because of the health care reform legislation. Leavitt suggested that health care in the United States will naturally evolve into a networked system, which will connect individual providers, such as physicians, pharmacists, clinics, hospitals, and laboratories. These networks, he argued, will allow providers to be more efficient and productive. Leavitt urged pharmacists to help start these networks in their own communities.

Shalala said that the influx of patients into the Medicaid system and the shortage of primary care doctors means that pharmacists will have to position themselves as leaders in the delivery of primary care. She argued that states will have to expand scope-of-practice laws to allow pharmacists to deliver the full range of patient services for which they have been trained. If done correctly, Shalala continued, health care reform will give pharmacists unprecedented opportunities and recognition. “Doctors can not be the only leaders in health care,” she stated.