Members of ASHP’s five policy-recommending councils and the Council of Affiliate Relations gathered virtually in September to help shape pharmacy practice and press Congress to support the profession’s role on the patient care team.
About 100 ASHP members, including 40 leaders from affiliated state societies, participated in the first-ever fully virtual ASHP Policy Week, which took place Sept. 21–24.
At the start of the event, ASHP Chief Executive Officer Paul W. Abramowitz thanked participants for their dedication and service during an extraordinarily difficult year.
”In addition to COVID-19, many of our members are also dealing with the devastation caused by wildfires and hurricanes, while also supporting family members and children who are working to adapt to virtual schooling. We are also in the midst of an extremely important movement in our country regarding racism, violence, and inequities against Black Americans,” Abramowitz said. “Amidst these difficulties lie opportunities to improve patient care, advance pharmacy practice, and help our profession and country move society at large to one that is more embracing and accepting of all of those around us.”
ASHP President Thomas J. Johnson told attendees that the virtual Policy Week, like many of the year’s events, “looks a little bit different than originally envisioned.” Nevertheless, he predicted that the forum “will produce positive results that reflect the transformation we see and that we seek in healthcare and position the profession to lead in this new environment and beyond.”
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) addressed the full group virtually to say that Congress is aware of issues important to the pharmacy profession and that a growing number of representatives favor bipartisan solutions to problems in healthcare.
Tuesday’s activities featured a joint session on pandemic preparedness featuring presentations from Don R. Boyce, vice president for emergency management at The Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, and Joe Pinto, the health system’s executive director of pharmacy operations. The two shared experiences and lessons learned from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the city.
“We were the epicenter, with 3,000 patients a day, and it was ongoing every day,” Pinto said. He noted that despite the health system’s longstanding and extensive planning for disasters, “we weren’t really prepared for what came ... with COVID.”
He urged the profession to engage with emergency response professionals and advocate for a standard scope of practice in all states that would streamline the ability of pharmacists to assist colleagues in disasters wherever they occur.
“This will not be our last pandemic or emergency,” Pinto warned. “The better prepared we are, the better care we provide for our patients.”
First-time Policy Week participant Jennifer Sternbach, corporate director of clinical pharmacy services for RWJBarnabas Health in Clifton, New Jersey, described the week’s activities as “energizing and invigorating.”
“It’s a super collaborative and supportive experience of people who really want the best things for our profession,” Sternbach said. “It’s about the advancement of the profession and the recognition of the role that we play in patient care.”
This year’s participants held 120 virtual visits with senators, congressional representatives, and staffers to advocate for the profession’s legislative priorities.
The priority items included twin threats to the federal 340B Drug Pricing Program; specifically, some manufacturers refuse to provided federally mandated discounts to pharmacies under contract to hospitals to administer the program, and Medicare has drastically reduced reimbursement amounts for 340B-covered drugs.
“We want to ask Congress to address both of those issues,” Tom Kraus, director of ASHP’s Government Relations Division, told Policy Week participants.
“The most important thing is for your representatives of Congress to hear from you, to understand that these issues impact you, they impact your patients. Tell a story about those impacts on you and your patients. Make them understand that this is real for people in your community,” Kraus advised.
Jessica Hill, corporate assistant director of clinical pharmacy at RWJBarnabas Health and member of the New Jersey Society of Health-System Pharmacists Council on Public Policy, said her group told legislators how the 340B program benefits their constituents.
“The main message with 340B was simply the great work that hospitals and health systems do with those dollars,” Hill said. “My health system, like many, uses those savings to reinvest in the community. And removal of those programs, or the pharmaceutical industry not participating in those programs, really does a disservice to patients and the services that we provide.”
Another ASHP priority is for pharmacists be reimbursed for administering COVID-19 and influenza tests to Medicare beneficiaries, including collection of specimens. And when COVID-19 vaccines are approved, legislation should be in place to permit pharmacists to prescribe and administer those vaccines and be reimbursed for doing so.
ASHP also prepared Policy Week participants to engage with legislators about telehealth services that pharmacists have been providing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal is to make permanent the temporary regulatory flexibilities that permit physicians to remotely supervise pharmacists’ “incident-to” telehealth services. A related goal is for Congress to clarify that pharmacists’ incident-to telehealth services should be billed at a rate that corresponds to the complexity of care.
Hill, who addressed her council about adapting practices to the new normal in the wake of the pandemic, said telehealth was “a common thread amongst a lot of the discussion that occurred” during group discussions and legislative visits.
“A lot of health systems and hospitals across the country seem to have leveraged telehealth, really digging into that,” Hill said. “Patients really enjoy — or they almost prefer — telehealth visits at times. And it allows the pharmacist to really almost do a home visit, where they could physically look in their medicine cabinets and see what’s going on.”
Sternbach said her state’s delegation touched on all of the priority issues during virtual visits with legislators and their staff, who were engaged in the topics.
“Everybody that we spoke to had answers for us on all of these issues,” Sternbach said. “It was nice to hear the things that were important to us were important to our representatives.”
Sternbach gave a presentation to her council about workforce support during unprecedented times, with an emphasis on her health system’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said ASHP has been central to building a strong foundation on well-being and resilience for the pharmacy profession. She noted that the council agreed on the need to “keep up that momentum” throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hill, a veteran of last year’s Policy Week, served as unofficial mentor for her state’s delegation this year, and everyone worked together to navigate the virtual format.
“There were really great in-person visits last year. But I have to say, the virtual visits, I felt, were just as productive,” Hill said. She noted that one congressional representative who might not have been available to meet in person was able to personally participate in the phone meeting.
“That was really great, to hear her energy and her excitement and enthusiasm to talk to her constituents,” Hill said.
Policy Week is the foundation of ASHP’s policymaking process and advocacy efforts. The participants’ recommendations drive ASHP’s advocacy agenda and form the basis of outreach to decision-makers in Congress, quality organizations, and stakeholder groups.
Watch ASHP’s new animated video to learn more about our policymaking process.
[This news story appears in the December 15, 2020, issue of AJHP.]