Sens. Baucus, Grassley urge CMS to use 'discretion' toward pharmacies

Thursday, January 28, 2010

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - A couple of marquee-name senators last week asked Medicare to cut some slack for pharmacies that have not gotten accredited.

In a Jan. 26 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Ranking Member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, urged "discretion" in enforcing the requirement.

"They were concerned that CMS was going to start acting in a draconian fashion and crack down on pharmacies that haven't gone through accreditation," said John Norton, associate director of public relations for the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA).

Baucus, in particular, understands the concerns of community pharmacies, said Norton.

"He's from a small rural state where there is a strong community pharmacy presence," said Norton. "He gets what will happen if we are being squeezed by policies that make access difficult for patients and, ultimately, his constituents."

The original deadline to become accredited, Oct 1, 2009, was delayed until Jan. 1, 2010, when Congress unanimously passed H.R. 3663. The extension allowed industry stakeholders to lobby for provisions in the House and Senate healthcare reform bills that would permanently exempt certain pharmacies from the requirement. The NCPA has been working to get the deadline extended again, but there are "too many things going on," said Norton.

That includes the loss of a Democratic Senate seat--and the 60-vote majority needed to prevent a Republican filibuster of their healthcare reform bill--when Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown to fill the seat of Edward Kennedy, who died in August.

"We are in limbo until we see what Congress is going to do in relation to healthcare reform," said Norton. "If the bill goes down, you have to find other vehicles. If the bill gets stripped down to some sort of smaller package, you've got to see if you can still be included in it."