Walgreen Co. president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson becomes chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores at a pivotal time for the industry.

Greg Wasson, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, NACDS, chairman, Walgreen, chain drug stores, pharmacy, pharmacist, Bob Loeffler, Steve Anderson, pharmacy benefit managers, Express Scripts, Medco, PBMs, pharmacy operators, community ­pharmacy, health care, community pharmacist

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Q&A: Wasson takes reins as NACDS chairman

April 24th, 2012
Greg Wasson

DEERFIELD, Ill. – Walgreen Co. president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson becomes chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores at a pivotal time for the industry.

The group Wasson will begin leading when he succeeds ­H-E-B's Bob Loeffler as NACDS chairman at the NACDS Annual Meeting on Tuesday has pulled out all the stops to halt the merger of pharmacy benefit managers Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions. After an intense but ultimately unsuccessful lobbying campaign to block the deal, NACDS and others last month filed a federal lawsuit aimed at accomplishing that goal.

Wasson, who as an NACDS board member was part of those initiatives, will continue to push for a level playing field for pharmacy operators and PBMs as part of a larger effort to ensure that the industry receives just compensation. Those goals are in sync with what Wasson has been doing at Walgreens, which he has led as CEO since February 2009.

In an interview with Chain Drug Review, Wasson expressed confidence that NACDS and the pharmacy operators it represents are unified around the broad objectives he champions. Here are excerpts of the discussion.

CDR: Assess NACDS and the role that it plays in representing the interests of community ­pharmacy.

WASSON: Under [president and CEO] Steve Anderson’s leadership over the last several years the association has probably been as focused and as effective as it’s ever been. And the board is as aligned as I think I’ve ever seen it around the key priorities NACDS has identified.

"I intend to carry the torch for the industry, just as I’ve carried the torch for the Walgreen Co."

— Greg Wasson

With that said, the association’s priority is certainly about making sure that there’s a lot of time and attention spent on governmental affairs to ensure that the profession is valued by policy makers for what it delivers and seen as a profession that can step up and play an even greater role in health care. Telling that story and making sure people do see pharmacy as the face of neighborhood health care is more critical than ever. We want to continue to advocate for that and communicate that and use that platform to help the industry realize its full potential.

There are two areas of focus that I see NACDS driving. The first would be lobbying for legislation and regulations that provide for fair reimbursement for the services that community pharmacy provides — in both the government sector and the private sector. Fair reimbursement from whoever the payer might be: Medicaid, Medicare, PBMs, health plans and so forth. That’s bucket one.

Bucket two would be everything we can do to continue to advance the role of the industry, meaning MTM [medication therapy management] and immunizations. It all fits with being the face of neighborhood health care.

CDR: As the incoming NACDS chairman, are there things on your agenda that might be a little bit different from what we’ve seen in the past couple of years?

WASSON: No. Not really. Steve has done a terrific job in listening to the board and the concerns of the members, and then gearing NACDS’ work to what we believe the industry needs to support. In the businesses that we all run, priorities are pretty much the same as those that the association is driving.

The success of the industry will play a significant role in the success of all of our businesses and vice versa. I don’t foresee any drastic changes. My objective as chairman is to continue to support Steve and his staff, and to do everything we can to execute upon the strategies that we’ve identified as being beneficial to the industry.

CDR: One of NACDS’ top priorities is stopping the merger between Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions. Where do things stand on that issue?

WASSON: Community pharmacy and the association have voiced the opinion that the merger would be harmful to patient access to convenient health care. NACDS has done a terrific job in trying to make policy makers aware of what could be disastrous access issues after the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] failed to take action on the merger.

Patients could lose access not only to their community pharmacist but to the services that community pharmacy is providing today and will be able to provide in the future.

CDR: Do policy makers believe that community pharmacy can be a more important resource going forward?

WASSON: The association and industry over the last couple of years have really made significant progress in helping to inform and educate policy makers as to the real role of community pharmacy.

The association’s retail members are inviting policy makers into our locations back in their districts and getting them inside pharmacies so that they have a firsthand experience. An old boss once told me, “There’s nothing better than show-and-tell management.” I’ve certainly learned that over the last several years when visiting Washington, D.C.

It’s one thing to spend time in policy makers’ offices trying to explain the value of community pharmacy; it’s another thing inviting them out to spend time in a store and showing them where the industry is going. The other members of the NACDS board have all done the same thing, and Steve has certainly encouraged that.

CDR: [Current NACDS chairman] Bob Loeffler was very outspoken in his remarks at the association’s regional chain conference earlier this year. How forceful do you intend to be in addressing the issues facing the industry?

WASSON: As I’ve said, NACDS and the industry have become much more focused. And with that increased focus, we can become much more direct. There’s always a balance in any business between trying to make sure that we maintain good relationships with those we do business with and standing up and making sure that we’re being valued for the services we provide. There’s nothing better than being candid and direct, so I intend to carry the torch for the industry, just as I’ve carried the torch for the Walgreen Co.

I can’t think of a time that I’ve been involved with NACDS that it’s been as aligned and as focused as it is right now. That’s what it’s going to take to continue to influence the environment that we operate in.

*To read the entire interview with Greg Wasson, please see the State of the Industry report in the April 23, 2012, print issue of Chain Drug Review.