Community pharmacies ‘outshine any chain’ every time

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Three years ago, the National Community Pharmacists Association’s political action committee ranked as the 963rd largest PAC. Now it’s the 42nd, raising over $1 million to lobby against competitive bidding and introduce other legislation to protect the interest of independent pharmacies. Bruce Roberts, the association’s executive vice president and CEO, spoke to HME News recently about the pressures that today’s independent pharmacists face.

HME News: Are pharmacists getting more involved in lobbying efforts?

Bruce Roberts: It’s like anything. Fifty percent get involved and the other 50% just sit on the sidelines and wait for their colleagues to do something. But there’s nothing like being hit in the pocketbook to get them engaged and Part D was the impetus to get folks focused on the importance of getting engaged.

HME: You were successful in getting diabetes excluded from competitive bidding.

Roberts: It is important that it’s recognized that pharmacy is an important form of distribution for diabetes supplies. We’ve been very adamant with the White House and CMS, and we were not cut out of the equation.

HME: Still, many payers are pushing beneficiaries to use mail order pharmacy. Does that trouble you?

Roberts: It’s a challenge. Mail order is taking customers out of the store. With the commodification of the prescription drug benefit, as long as we continue down that road, the mail piece will be a problem.

HME: Commodification?

Roberts: Pharmacists are portrayed on the evening news as just counting pills. It’s about more than putting pills in a bottle and giving them to the patient. The minimum number of years of education for a pharmacist is six, and I think 72% have eight years of education.

HME: How can pharmacies pull customers into the store?

Roberts: What we’ve seen loud and clear over the past few years is the diversification of pharmacies. They are getting into different areas:

DME, immunizations, cards, gifts, home healthcare products. There are all sorts of different things that provide an opportunity to bring incremental revenue to the pharmacy.

HME: Can the independent pharmacist step up and fill more of a role in the healthcare system?

Roberts: We feel it’s imperative that pharmacy reposition itself to be an integral part of the health care delivery team. With the aging of the baby boomers, we do not have enough doctors and nurses. The pharmacist can communicate with the rest of the healthcare team and make sure the physician knows what’s going on.

HME: Are big chains a concern?

Roberts: Not at all. The independents offer a lot of services: patient care like blood pressure checks, immunization clinics and durable medical equipment. DME is a major part of that. The chains just don’t offer those types of services. That sets us apart. Independents in most communities will outshine any chain.