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In Hagan, pharmacy has strong Capitol Hill ally
February 18th, 2013
WASHINGTON – Kay Hagan understands what community pharmacy can do.
A combination of personal and legislative experience has given the junior senator from North Carolina an appreciation of the profession’s ability to exert a positive influence on both the lives of patients and the efficient, cost-effective delivery of health care. That understanding has made her one of pharmacy’s strongest allies on Capitol Hill.
“My father in law passed away about three years ago at the age of 96,” said Hagan during a recent interview at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. “He had a lot prescription drugs on the countertop, and I often wondered, should he be taking all of them? It’s a common problem with older people. Getting pharmacists more involved in their care is just common sense, and it is fiscally responsible.”
Hagan, a moderate Democrat who joined the Senate after defeating nationally known Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole in 2008, is turning that insight into action by working to win passage of the Medication Therapy Management Empowerment Act, which she and three of her Democratic colleagues – Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Al Franken of Minnesota and Tim Johnson of South Dakota – introduced in 2011. The bill, which has attracted additional support and now has 15 bipartisan cosponsors, would give senior citizens with any chronic disease access to MTM services.
“It is very important to keep people, especially the elderly, on the right medication,” Hagan noted. “The studies that I’ve seen show that we spend $289 billion a year for people who don’t take their medications properly. This bill really addresses how pharmacists can weigh in on the health care of individuals with chronic diseases and have better outcomes and save money.”
Hagan knows what she’s talking about. A member of the North Carolina senate for 10 years prior going to Washington, she helped ensure passage of legislation creating the ChecKmeds program, which pays for residents over age 65 to receive annual counseling from pharmacists about their drug regimens.
“ChecKmeds afforded the opportunity for seniors to take their prescription drugs to a pharmacy once a year and say, what are all these medications? Are they contraindicated to one another? Help me with this situation,” explained Hagan. “ChecKmeds helped those people be healthier and saved over $10 million in that first year.”
The senator witnessed the value of one-on-one interaction between patients and pharmacists during a visit to a Kerr Drug store in her home state, but many of her colleagues still need to be convinced.
“One of the things that’s hard to score in legislation is prevention, something will save money in the future,” Hagan said. “That is an area that’s hard to demonstrate. But when you look at what ChecKmeds has done in North Carolina, I think we have data that we can show to prove our case.”
The effort to expand MTM and other aspects of pharmacy practice coincides with the ongoing reform of the nation’s health care system. A supporter of the Affordable Care Act, Hagan helped shape parts of the legislation, the major elements of which will take effect next year, that emphasize the importance of maintaining good health as opposed to treating problems after they’ve occurred.
“We have to continue to reduce the increase in the cost of health care,” she asserted. “Prevention has to be a huge part of it. There was a provision that I worked on in the Affordable Care Act that said that companies could reduce premiums if their employees did a wellness exam. For instance, if people with diabetes could show that they were taking their medication regularly, they could qualify for a reduced health care premium.
“The idea being that if you put money in somebody’s pocket, they will change their behavior. That’s what we need to do from the standpoint of having people understand the cost of medical treatment and what they can do to bring that cost down.”
That focus will create new opportunities for retail pharmacists, the most accessible health care providers, and help foster the transformation of drug stores into true community health care centers, a movement in which Kerr is in the vanguard.
“I’ve seen firsthand community health care centers and the outstanding level of care and treatment they provide people in North Carolina,” Hagan noted. “In my mind, we’re the best in the nation and the model that many other states are looking at. I have been to many of our community care centers across the state, and the fact that individuals can go and get primary care, OG [obstetrics and gynecology] services and dental treatment in one setting at a very economical cost really sets North Carolina apart.”