As published in The Hill.com
By B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA
Executive Vice President and CEO
National Community Pharmacists Association
Independent community pharmacists are among the most accessible health care providers in America. And we may be more visible than usual this week as hundreds of local pharmacists visit Capitol Hill. Our message is simple: Trusted, neighborhood pharmacists provide expert medication counseling, promote the use of cost-saving generic drugs and can play an even greater role to improve health outcomes and reduce medical costs.
To many in Washington, especially those new to the nation's capital, the area can seem to consist only of national chain pharmacies and Big Box stores. So it's worth revisiting the unique role that independent community pharmacies play in America's health care system today.
The nation's independent community pharmacies dispense about 40 percent of all retail prescriptions. These small businesses employ 315,000 people, including some 63,000 pharmacists. As community pillars, they contribute greatly to their local economy and tax base. They also dispense a greater percentage of cost-saving generic drugs than some other pharmacy providers, like mail order. Independent pharmacies are often in underserved areas, particularly rural and urban ones, and provide specialty health items hard to find elsewhere. You can see one in action just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol in Grubb's CARE Pharmacy. No appointment necessary.
In Gallup's annual Honesty and Ethics poll, pharmacists perennially rank near the top in public confidence. In addition, independent pharmacies were singled out by patients for high customer satisfaction in surveys conducted by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates.
It is that nexus of patient accessibility and trust that makes community pharmacists a natural resource to help tackle some of the biggest health care challenges.
First, we must maximize the therapeutic benefits of prescription medications to improve health outcomes and lower costs. The incorrect use of legitimately prescribed medications is estimated to cost our health care system as much as $290 billion annually, according to NEHI. Regular, formalized patient-pharmacist counseling, known as "medication therapy management," or MTM, has been shown to produce as much as a 12-to-1 return on investment. H.R. 891/S. 274, the Medication Therapy Management Benefits Act, would give more Medicare patients access to cost-saving medication reviews and face-to-face consultations with licensed pharmacists.
Second, the fight against diabetes is one in which community pharmacists are playing an enhanced role. Increasingly, pharmacists are providing diabetes education and training to help patients manage their condition more effectively and avoid costly complications. By supporting The Medicare Access to Diabetes Supplies Act, sponsored by Reps. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Congress can protect Medicare beneficiaries’ access to diabetes testing supplies and one-on-one counseling on their proper use at local pharmacies.
Of course, for these efforts to fully succeed, patients must have access to their pharmacy of choice in the first place. That's why we encourage Congress to support legislation to protect patient choice, preserve community pharmacies and enhance competition among pharmacy providers by doing the following:
Community pharmacists are honored to have strong, bipartisan support for these and other issues. To that end, Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) have just re-established the Congressional Community Pharmacy Caucus in the 112th Congress. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) is spearheading the launch of the first such caucus in the other body. We greatly appreciate their efforts. Hopefully, both groups will serve as forums for discussion and action on policies to protect patients’ access to their pharmacy of choice and to better utilize pharmacists in our health care system.
In these and in other ways, the nation's independent community pharmacists stand ready to work with Congress to help improve health outcomes and reduce overall costs.
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