Legislation that would grant pharmacists an antitrust exemption to band together to negotiate fees with pharmacy benefit management firms, health maintenance organizations, and other insurers has cleared its first major hurdle. The House Judiciary Committee voted 26 to 2 to send H.R. 1304 to the full House of Representatives for debate, expected to come later this spring.
"The non-negotiable health insurance contracts typically include coverage of only drugs, with minimal, if any, recognition of the value of or coverage for important, costeffective professional pharmacist services," said John M. Rector, the National Community Pharmacists Association's senior v.p. for government affairs. "This nearly uniform denial of payment for pharmacist services has led to unnecessary and inappropriate prescriptions, to uncounseled prescription drug usage, to medication errors, and to reduced patient compliance with appropriate drug regimens."
The collective-bargaining bill, which also covers physicians and other health-care providers, is NCPA's top priority on Capitol Hill this year. The committee action came two days after the close of NCPA's annual legislative conference, which brought about 200 independent pharmacy owners to Washington, D.C., to lobby their legislators.
The measure was introduced by Rep. Tom Campbell (R, Calif.) and has attracted 211 cosponsors. It would seem to be well on its way to passing the House, but it has powerful opponents as well. "OPEC for doctors" is how an insurance industry-led coalition describes it. "The antitrust laws are designed to promote fair competition, but this bill would grant a special interest a special exception to price-fix," charged the Antitrust Coalition for Consumer Choice in Health Care. …