Hailing a string of public policy victories, National Association of Chain Drug Stores chairman Larry Merlo said NACDS has evolved from a group that "knows how to win" into one that "is winning consistently."


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Merlo: NACDS is now 'winning consistently'

February 7th, 2011
NACDS chairman Larry Merlo

NAPLES, Fla. – Hailing a string of public policy victories, National Association of Chain Drug Stores chairman Larry Merlo said NACDS has evolved from a group that "knows how to win" into one that "is winning consistently."

In remarks on Monday at the NACDS Regional Chain Conference in Naples, Fla., Merlo also noted that research is demonstrating the cost-saving and health-improving benefits of pharmacy care "with scientific rigor" and described opportunities to further raise awareness among decision-makers of the value of pharmacy services.

"From my role as chairman, I see an organization that is making a huge transition. In recent years, we have emerged as an association that knows how to win. Now, we are growing into an association that is winning consistently," he said at the conference. Merlo, currently president and chief operating officer of CVS Caremark Corp., is slated to become chief executive officer of the pharmacy company March 1.

Merlo noted the pharmacy industry's triumphs over the past year, including those related to advancing medication therapy management (MTM) programs, fostering viable pharmacy reimbursement in federal and state government programs, shaping drug disposal policy, preventing co-pay increase in the military's TRICARE program and allowing e-prescribing for controlled substances.

In addtion, he said pharmacy needs to keep pushing ahead to realize its potential for patient care, particularly in the area of medication adherence. To that end, he pointed to the power of research to advance pharmacy's case.

"The research and science of pharmacy care over the past two years has expanded our position pretty dramatically," Merlo explained. "Investments being made by many pharmacy and health care companies are helping illustrate and further quantify the value of pharmacy care. We should be pleased and proud with what the research is showing — with scientific rigor. The conclusions have been clear: Increasing efforts to promote pharmacy care can save the health care system significant dollars while improving health outcomes."

Merlo suggested that research demonstrates a return on investment from pharmacy services for plan sponsors and beneficiaries and that it highlights the importance of strategies moving forward. "We need to continue to develop tools and programs to engage and educate people about the importance of taking medications as directed. We need to find ways to incentivize patients to take better care of themselves. We need to develop and use new technology to help this effort," he stated.

He described the "solution" that exists in MTM programs and stressed the need to build on the success of those initiatives. "All of the studies I cited show the evolution of the pharmacist from not just a dispenser of products, but to a provider of services," he said. "And we as an industry must ensure that we are recognized by payors' reimbursement policies — not just for the products we sell — but for the services we provide."

In advancing pharmacy, Merlo also emphasized the importance of NACDS members' engagement in grassroots advocacy. He urged conference attendees to participate in NACDS RxIMPACT Day on Capitol Hill, held March 9 and 10 in Washington, D.C. At the event, pharmacy advocates will help to "tell the story of pharmacy as the face of neighborhood health care" in meetings with lawmakers and policymakers.

"2010 was an exciting and important time to be a pharmacist. We contributed to the national discussion about how best to improve and increase access to health care for Americans, a goal many of us have held for years," Merlo said.

Also at the Regional Chain Conference, NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson pointed out that lawmakers are now starting to get the message when it comes to the value of medication adherence and pharmacists' role in promoting it.

"When I go into meetings with members of Congress on Capitol Hill, this concept of medication adherence makes sense to elected officials," Anderson said at the event. "Republicans and Democrats alike — instinctively, they get it. Members of the U.S Senate and members of the U.S. House of Representatives — instinctively they get it.”

According to Anderson, adherence is the defining issue for pharmacies in the health care arena. "We are not just pleading, 'Don’t cut our reimbursement,' as vital as that is," he said. "We also are urging, 'Don't cut off pharmacy's power to make government budgets healthier, and patients healthier for the long term."

NACDS, in tandem with the National Community Pharmacists Association, successfully challenged in federal court the Medicaid pharmacy reimbursement cuts under the average manufacturer price (AMP) model. After an injunction to block the cuts, the new health care reform law included a substantial reduction in those cuts. In December, NACDS and NCPA withdrew the lawsuit, three years from the date that the injunction was ordered, because all the issues involved in the suit were resolved in favor of pharmacy patient care.

Anderson said that "AMP" has become a catch-all term that symbolizes remaining reimbursement issues, including those related to state government budgets. "From this broader perspective, 'AMP' remains before us. In fact, at the federal and state levels, we need to 'Re-AMP,' " he explained. "We need to maintain our forward position — and our fire in the belly. We need to fight for victory, because defeats are unacceptable for pharmacy viability and for patient care."

He added that NACDS is reaching out with that message of health care effectiveness and fiscal responsibility to returning members of Congress of both parties and to the 112 new members of the House and Senate — 21% of the entire Congress — as a result of the November 2010 midterm elections.

"While ultimate victory for pharmacy cannot yet be claimed, we are seeing the power of our progress and the interim victories that we have earned together," Anderson stated. "Our position is stronger than ever before, and so is our platform for future transformation."

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