Affecting real change by sharing your pharmacy's true story
While assessing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, there's never been a better time to let your voice be heard. Speaking out on independent pharmacy issues and clearly communicating them to policymakers, especially legislators who support independent pharmacy, is one of the most effective ways to spur action on the forces impacting your business and, ultimately, your patients.
The power of independent pharmacy advocacy continues to break new ground. A shining example emerged as recently as December 2020, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Arkansas state law regulating pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) reimbursement practices (Rutledge v. Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA)). The landmark case paves the way for other states to enact similar legislation or take regulatory action to prevent PBMs from underpaying pharmacists.
That’s not the only independent pharmacy advocacy win that happened last year. A record number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives signed on to congressional letters demanding that DIR fee reform be included in any future COVID legislative package. What's more, lobbying efforts led to an agreement whereby the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will directly allocate COVID-19 vaccines to independent retail pharmacies. The vaccine rollout to independent pharmacies across the country has proven to be an enormous success so far and additional vaccine allocation is expected in the coming months.
As you can see, current pharmacy advocacy issues reflect what's happening across the profession in real time. Initially, it may seem like a daunting task to get involved, but it's really not that complicated. You already have an incredible story to tell to legislators: being one of the most accessible points of healthcare for so many people in your community. Once you take a few simple steps to convey the value of independent pharmacy, you'll find a highly receptive audience in elected officials.
Knowing where to start is the biggest hurdle to overcome when engaging in advocacy. Nonetheless, one factor immediately working in your favor is your day-to-day interaction with customers. You've learned to advocate for products and services that improve patient health, explain how they work, answer any questions or concerns, and make personal recommendations. Those communication skills are directly transferrable to conversations with legislators.
The following pointers will help put your proficiencies into practice:
- Choose your target
Officials at both state and federal levels should be interested in hearing your concerns, whether they’re legislators who have previously supported independent pharmacy or not. The insight you have to share will be valuable for all to hear. State legislators tend to be more accessible by virtue of representing smaller populations than their counterparts in Washington. At the same time, however, Senators and Congresspeople have staff dedicated to healthcare policies and constituent outreach. In either case — state or federal — you'll find publicly posted contact information on your representative's website or sources such as www.ourindependentvoice.com or www.congress.gov.
- Define your request clearly and explain the impact it will have on patients
In advocacy, we refer to this as “the ask” — the specific independent pharmacy issue you'd like to discuss with the legislator. A relevant example would be inquiring about what's required to be reimbursed for patient services administered at your pharmacy. The more precise you can be with your ask and the more you can incorporate the importance of patient care and accessibility in the problem to be solved, the faster you'll be able to connect with the appropriate person.
- Build relationships with staff
When you put in a request to speak with a lawmaker, don't be deflated if you hear back from a staff member. In reality, legislators get pulled in a lot of different directions from their constituency and rely on their staff to perform much of their research and response on various issues. State and federal staffers can be among your biggest allies in making sure your message gets conveyed through proper channels.
- Get their attention
Why should a legislator respond to your concern? Emphasize your role as a successful healthcare provider serving X number of patients in your community. It's also worth noting if you're the only independent pharmacy within an X-mile radius of your store. Another key point to relay is how many jobs your business supports. Providing as much specific data and statistics is very helpful in these conversations.
- Explain how legislators can help
Don't assume that lawmakers immediately know every potential impact of pending policies related to independent pharmacy issues. Show you've done your homework. For instance, explain, “Here's the name of a bill currently circulating at the statehouse that addresses DIR reform. I'd like you to co-sponsor it because I currently get reimbursed below acquisition cost for life-saving medications."
- Make contact virtually
The ongoing pandemic has curtailed opportunities to invite elected officials to your pharmacy for an onsite tour, which is normally an effective way to showcase patient services and explain reimbursement shortfalls. Alternatively, many pharmacy owners have taken to social media, where nearly all legislators have an active presence. Reach out through tweets, tag policymakers on topical posts, and attend virtual town halls where there's typically a segment devoted to individual constituent questions and concerns.
- Utilize existing relationships
It's often said that a lot of work gets accomplished through personal connections. Don't be shy about asking a family member, friend, or professional colleague for an introduction to an elected official or perhaps someone who works in your state's Department of Health. That person can often get the ball rolling for a direct discussion with a lawmaker who serves your community.
Persistence pays off
You can make a difference in independent pharmacy by recognizing the power in your own voice. Stay informed about legislative and policy developments by regularly monitoring updates from reputable sources like the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and state pharmacy associations. When reaching out to legislators, be consistent in your messaging as a healthcare provider who takes time to connect with patients on a personal level. From there, be creative and take advantage of all available avenues to reach your intended audience.
Finally, rest assured that your communications will be recognized, particularly if you can back up your comments with your real-world experiences and relevant data points. Things may not change overnight, but incremental progress can lead to significant and lasting advances for your pharmacy and the profession overall.