BETHESDA, MD 06 Feb 2015—Student pharmacists from as far away as California came to Washington, D.C., this week to urge their representatives in Congress to cosponsor the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act.
The legislation, known as H.R. 592 in the House and S. 314 in the Senate, would amend the Social Security Act "to provide for coverage under the Medicare program of pharmacist services."
When the 42 student pharmacists began their day of visits to congressional offices on Wednesday, H.R. 592 had 13 cosponsors and S. 314 had 5 cosponsors.
As of this morning, according to Congress.gov, H.R. 592 has 19 cosponsors.
The offices of 3 of the 6 new cosponsors were visited by student pharmacists on Wednesday, according to Joseph M. Hill, director of ASHP federal legislative affairs.
Their visits were part of ASHP's first-ever policy conference for students, held this past Tuesday and Wednesday.
Dennis Harris, an Alaska resident attending the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said he met with his state's senators and an aide to Representative Don Young.
"We talked about pharmacists really being specialists in chronic disease state management [and] how medication's the first line for about 90%" of that management, he said.
With those points made, Harris told his senators and representative's aide that pharmacists are the "perfect" healthcare professional to put in the position of managing chronic diseases.
"But until they're recognized as providers," he said in recalling his three conversations about pharmacists and the legislation, "it's just not possible to have the [optimal] level of care because you're missing a member of the team."
Harris said his senators and representative's aide mentioned that fee for service, which is the payment model in the legislation, is not the best way to pay for healthcare services.
But the senators and representative's aide "recognize that there's really a need for this [legislation] and it's not just about the fee-for-service model," he said. "It's that as we move forward, away from that, we should still have pharmacists incorporated into the discussion. . . . Pharmacists have great outcomes."
Representative Young is one of the new cosponsors of the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act.
Drake University student pharmacists Alexa DeVita and Christina Bravos, who are Illinois residents, said they met with two congressional aides: a fellow in the office of Senator Richard J. Durbin and the legislative assistant for Senator Mark Steven Kirk, an original cosponsor of the legislation.
The fellow asked a lot of questions about the legislation, DeVita said.
Bravos said that's when the educational portion of the policy conference became "definitely, definitely beneficial."
Thanks to e-mails from ASHP and the American Pharmacists Association, she knew a lot about the legislation and the need for provider status before attending the conference.
"But when you get into the nitty-gritty of . . . what are the congressmen's staffers going to ask you, how you should answer it, that was something I was not familiar with," Bravos said.
Likewise DeVita, who is in her first year of pharmacy education, commended ASHP for preparing student pharmacists to answer questions during meetings in congressional offices.
Christopher J. Topoleski, director of ASHP regulatory affairs, accompanied Bravos and DeVita to their meetings.
DeVita said Durbin's fellow turned the focus of the discussion to biomedical research funding—Durbin is sponsor of the American Cures Act—and peppered Topoleski with questions. She said Topoleski responded and then the pharmacy team returned the discussion to provider status.
The encounter, said Bravos, changed her impression of politics in the nation's capital, which until this past Wednesday was mostly based on the TV series House of Cards.
Angela Skaff, a student at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, said Wednesday was the second time she had visited congressional offices.
As the student member of the 2014–15 ASHP Council on Public Policy, she had participated in Legislative Day last September.
Skaff said she met with an aide for Senator Bill Nelson. This was the same aide she had met five months ago, and she said he obviously had read up on the subject of provider status for pharmacists.
"Today was good because I was able to say, 'Now, let's take this to the next step; the bill's been reintroduced, we now have a companion Senate bill," Skaff said in recalling the discussion. "And he had a lot of great questions."
None of the questions caught her by surprise, however. Skaff credited the policy conference speakers who had prepared the student pharmacists for their day on Capitol Hill.
"It was great to be able to answer those questions," she said. "And he definitely said he would follow up."
Skaff and three other student pharmacists from Florida also met Representatives Lois Frankel, Alan Grayson, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and spoke with an aide to Senator Marco Rubio.
The student pharmacists took turns speaking, with each providing a different piece of the argument for passage of the legislation, Skaff said.
As the only student pharmacist in the Florida group who has advanced pharmacy practice experience, Skaff said she told of her teamwork with physicians and nurses.
"There's still a lack of awareness, unfortunately, about what pharmacists know and what we learn and with our training," she said.
Rather than simply lament the situation, Skaff said student pharmacists should educate their congressional representatives and their aides. She found that the aides, in most cases, were her age and easy to engage in conversation.
Georgia resident Melissa Bien-Aime, who attends Union University in Tennessee, met with the legislative director for Representative Rick Allen and the legislative correspondent for Senator Johnny Isakson.
Bien-Aime said she told Allen's legislative director and Isakson's legislative correspondent "how we are trained to do so many things that the bill will allow us to do."
"And we're so accessible," she recalled also telling them, mentioning the delays some patients encounter when seeking healthcare. "If the bill passes, we'll be able to step in and use the training that we already know to better serve public health."
But she also had to tell the legislative director and legislative correspondent about student pharmacists' training.
"A lot of people still think that pharmacy [practice] is just the chain drugstore pharmacists," Bien-Aime said.
Harris said during his meetings in the offices of Alaska's congressional representatives, someone asked who opposed the legislation.
"Well, no one's really against it," he said he responded. "It's just something that should be done."