Magazine article Drug Topics

These Three Bills Top Pharmacists' Agenda in Congress This Year

Magazine article Drug Topics

These Three Bills Top Pharmacists' Agenda in Congress This Year

Article excerpt

As the second session of the 107th Congress moved into full swing, pharmacy lawmakers were intent on keeping up the momentum to propel some proposed bills through the legislature that they say hit the "highwater mark" in recognizing the expanded role of pharmacists and the value of pharmacy services.

Topping the list-and backed by strong lobbying efforts from national pharmacy groups-is the highly lauded Medicare Drug and Service Coverage Act of 2002, which would offer comprehensive prescription drug benefits to seniors.

Also high on the agenda: the provider status bill, which is expected to bring pharmacists in line with the other healthcare professionals by making them providers under Medicare; and the Pharmacy Education Aid Act of 2001, which takes aim at easing the critical shortage of pharmacists by increasing support for pharmacy education.

And while there's probably little likelihood that all of these bills will be passed into law this year, there's strong consensus among pharmacy leaders that on the table now is legislation that represents a step in the right direction for the profession.

"Some of the key initiatives in Congress this year are well in line with our highest priority of redefining the pharmacist's job description to include securing payments for pharmacy services such as medication therapy management," explained Susan Winckler, group director of policy and advocacy for the American Pharmaceutical Association.

Indeed, said Winckler, APhA's ringing endorsement of the Medicare Drug and Service Coverage Act, drafted by the Pharmacy Benefits All Coalition (PBA) and introduced recently by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), hinged in part on the legislation's emphasis on pharmacy services and not just the provision of medication.

Under this bill, seniors would be responsible for a 20% copayment for their medications, along with a monthly insurance benefit yet to be determined and an annual deductible of $250-half of the $500 deductible other Medicare legislation would require.

Unlike earlier plans, choice of drugs, with the exception of certain lifestyle drugs, would not be limited, and beneficiaries would have access to pharmacy-based medication management services to improve the effectiveness of their drugs and reduce errors. By allowing seniors to access these benefits at the pharmacy of their choice, the legislation goes a long way in recognizing the importance of a strong patientpharmacist relationship.

Yet another provision will provide for benefit cards to help streamline the administrative process at the store level. To ensure lower drug costs, manufacturers would provide larger rebates.

"The Emerson/Ross bill clearly reflects the kinds of issues that any pharmacy group would like to see in a comprehensive Medicare reform package," said John Rector, general counsel for the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA). Among the key attractions for his group, he said, is the legislation s "more traditional role" for pharmacy benefit managers.

"The bill guarantees seniors complete freedom to select the drugs and pharmacist providers that best meet their needs and rejects the unbridled delegation of authority to PBMs to steer patients to their highly profitable mailorder businesses, which radically limit the choice of drugs for seniors," maintained Rector.

Ross/Emerson also spells good news for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. …

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