Local Pharmacies Play Essential Role in Care

Jun 24, 2011
Health Care

Published in Roll Call.

By Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)

From Walla Walla to Brooklyn, and everywhere in between, community pharmacies are a bedrock of medical professionalism and the most accessible health care providers. Pharmacists are also among today’s most trusted professionals in America, according to Gallup.

That combination of accessibility and patient confidence puts local pharmacists in an ideal position to help address some of our country’s most pressing health care needs. For example, the misuse of legitimately prescribed medications — not taking enough, taking too much or not taking them at all — is estimated to cost our health care system $290 billion annually. In addition, the shortage of primary care providers is expected to be felt by more individuals as they obtain health insurance and seek basic preventive services such as immunizations and screenings. Community pharmacists stand at the front lines every day: ready, willing and able to help — no appointment necessary.

Like most Members of Congress, we’ve seen this back home firsthand on a regular basis. That’s why we recently re-established the Congressional Community Pharmacy Caucus in the 112th Congress. Our primary goals are twofold. First, to protect our constituents’ access to the vital medication counseling and other health services that local pharmacists provide. Second, to preserve and expand the role these trusted professionals can play in our health care system to improve outcomes and lower costs. This caucus will be a venue for Members of Congress and their staff to exchange ideas and pursue legislative and other solutions toward those ends. We encourage our House colleagues from both sides of the aisle to join us.

We’re excited to be joined by a Senate colleague in this effort. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) is working to launch the first Senate Community Pharmacy Caucus. His efforts are greatly needed and will help ensure pro-patient, pro-pharmacy legislation can move forward in the other chamber.

All retail pharmacists play a critical role as trusted, accessible health care professionals. In particular, we want to recognize the efforts of independent community pharmacists. 

You can find these small-business entrepreneurs and community pillars at some 23,000 locations in neighborhoods, towns and big cities coast-to-coast. While they might not advertise on TV like the “big box” stores, they have not gone the way of solo practitioners making house calls.

Some of them might look like a mom-and-pop operation and make you feel like family, but they can also feature glassed-in sterile laboratories for customizing dosage forms, the latest technology and bright showrooms of wheelchairs, walkers and hospital beds.

All told, the nation’s independent community pharmacies dispense 41 percent of all retail prescriptions, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association, and employ 315,000 people, including some 63,000 pharmacists. They also dispense a greater percentage of cost-saving generic drugs than other pharmacy providers, like mail order.

When given a choice of pharmacy, patients often “vote independent.” Some 43,739 readers of Consumer Reports gave independent community pharmacies the highest rating based on overall satisfaction and service among all types of pharmacy providers. Ninety-four percent of survey respondents said they were highly satisfied with their experiences at independent pharmacies, based on categories including personal service, knowledge and speed in filling prescriptions.

In addition, the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 National Pharmacy Study found independently owned community pharmacies consistently garnered among the highest customer-satisfaction scores.

Because of the breadth and depth and importance of these pharmacies’ services to their patients and their communities, we support the following policies to maintain access to them:

• The Pharmacy Competition and Consumer Choice Act (H.R. 1971/S. 1058). We introduced this legislation to preserve a patient’s choice of pharmacy and to restore competition in the delivery of pharmacy services. Legitimate oversight by insurance companies to prevent waste, fraud and abuse should continue, but overzealous auditors should not overturn legitimate prescriptions on minor technicalities.

• The Medicare Access to Diabetes Supplies Act (H.R. 1936) to protect Medicare beneficiaries’ access to diabetes testing supplies and face-to-face counseling on their proper use at independent pharmacies.

• The Medication Therapy Management Benefits Act (H.R. 891) would give more Medicare patients access to cost-saving medication reviews and consultations with licensed pharmacists. These services have been shown to produce as much as a 12-to-1 return on investment.

Shortly we will be sending out a “Dear Colleague” to the entire House, asking Members to join the caucus and seeking support for legislative issues like those listed above. The main goal of the caucus is quite simple: to preserve our constituents’ access to the cost-saving services of these highly trained and motivated health care professionals and small-business owners.

Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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