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How to Be an Effective Independent Pharmacy Advocate

How to Be an Effective Independent Pharmacy Advocate

September 24, 2020

Inside: Tips for making a compelling case to your legislators.

Emergency orders, relief bills, and new regulations from the president, Congress, and the Department of Health and Human Services have expanded the duties of independent pharmacy, and the recent changes have made it clear how much of an impact the federal government has on how independent pharmacies do business.

As legislation about the pharmaceutical industry works its way through congress, make sure you’ve put in your two cents. As an independent pharmacy owner, your expertise can shape how the industry is regulated.

Use these tips to help you advocate for issues that affect independent pharmacies and build a good relationship with your legislators.

Be aware of pharmacy legislation

In order to effectively communicate with legislators, you need to know what actions are already in progress. Stay up-to-date with all the legislation that affects independent pharmacy by reading independent pharmacy news sources. You can also create a Google alert for terms like “independent pharmacy,” “pharmacy benefit managers,” or “DIR fees,” and all the news about independent pharmacy will be aggregated in your inbox.

Independent pharmacy advocacy organizations can help keep you abreast of what’s going on at the national level. The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) puts together a legislative agenda every year, which lists the pro-pharmacy, pro-patient efforts happening in the U.S. Congress, and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) has an advocacy toolkit for those looking to get more involved.

Find out who your legislators are

At the national level, you have three representatives. Two senators that serve your entire state, and one member of the house of representatives, who represent the district that you live in.

To find out who your legislators are, you can check the official U.S. Senate website and choose your state, and go to the House website and enter your ZIP code.

In addition to your national representatives, you should also seek out your state-level representatives. There are plenty of laws that affect independent pharmacies being discussed at the state and local level, so it’s crucial not to concentrate activism efforts solely on your federal representatives.

Politicians at the local level are also in the state all the time, so it can often be easier to get face time with them.

Meet in person, if possible

Meeting face-to-face with your legislator or a member of their staff is the best way to make sure your message gets across. To get a meeting, you will have to call or email the scheduler in charge of your congressperson’s calendar.

For national legislators, you’ll probably either have the meeting in Washington, D.C., or at a district office closer to your home. During the pandemic, face-to-face meetings have been put on hold, but you can still schedule a phone meeting with your representatives.

Another approach would be to invite your legislators to visit your pharmacy. Look at the Congressional Calendar to find out when they will be in town to extend the invite. Showing your representatives around your pharmacy can be an effective tactic to demonstrate the positive impact that independent pharmacists have on the community and help legislators understand how current legislative efforts will aid local businesses.

Master your message

Lawmakers see a lot of different people and speak on many different issues, so in order to make sure your message is heard, you need to be prepared.

If you are advocating for a specific piece of legislation, make sure you know the bill numbers as well as the details of what the bill is proposing. The more cogently you can speak on the issues, the more memorable of an impression you will make.

End your meeting with a firm ask. Let them know if you would like them to vote “yea” or “nay” on a bill, co-sponsor a piece legislation, or become a public advocate. Give them a clear directive for how you’d like the situation to be resolved.

Power in numbers

When you’re advocating for change, you can’t go it alone. The more people you have on your team, the harder your message will be to ignore.

Contact other independent pharmacists in your state and work together to communicate with lawmakers. Even if you are not all having face-to-face meetings, senators and representatives count how many calls and emails they receive about the issues, and when they are getting a strong, consistent message from many different people, that can sway their positions.

If you get enough people together, you can also invite your legislators to participate in a Q&A session with local pharmacists. That way, the whole pharmacy community has a chance to ask questions about their representative’s positions and let their opinions be known.

Hire a lobbyist

You might think that lobbyists only work for giant corporations, but if you form a coalition with other pharmacy owners, you can hire a lobbyist or lobbying firm, too.

The advantage of hiring a lobbyist is simple — they’re professionals. They know how to get the attention of lawmakers and how to get your message across.

However, they are an expensive solution, so this route is best reserved for the most pressing, important issues. If you don’t want to hire a lobbyist to do your advocacy work for you, you can also bring on a consultant to help you craft an effective message and plan of attack.

Educate and involve your patients

Your patients rely on you to get their medications, and they value your presence in the community. You can harness that to amplify your political voice.

Just like you, your patients are voters and constituents, and your representatives care about what they have to say.

Inform patients about legislation that could change the cost and availability of their medications and encourage them to contact congressional representatives. By letting them know how the legislation will affect them,  your patients will have a strong incentive to get involved.

Be persistent

Change doesn’t happen overnight. A bill with that you’ve put your heart and soul into advocating for could die in committee. Or it could pass in the House of Representatives and never be brought up for a vote in the Senate.

As an advocate, you have to be ready for the long haul, because even though change at the legislative level is often incremental, it does happen.

If something doesn’t go your way the first time, don’t burn bridges with your congressional representatives and their staff. Instead, work to develop a relationship with them so the next time an important bill comes up, you know exactly who to call.


An Independently Owned Organization Serving Independent Pharmacies

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is a member-owned organization that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.

PBA Health, an HDA member, operates its own NABP-accredited (formerly VAWD) warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.

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