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Pharmacist Legislators Help Direct States

Donna Young

More pharmacists and other health care professionals need to be involved in politics and public service to help guide health care-related legislation, said Connecticut pharmacist and state Senate candidate Bob Tendler.

Tendler, a former president of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association and a pharmacist for 47 years, is running as a Democrat for the 69th District Senate seat in his state. Concerns about issues that affect seniors, including medication costs, assistance programs, and property taxes, prompted him to seek public office.

"Seniors cannot pay high prescription costs and high taxes and still survive," Tendler said.

The Connecticut Legislature, he said, has "whittled down" the state’s Medicaid program so that "only the oldest and the sickest" are covered. And residents enrolled in state assistance programs must use mail-order pharmacies to fill prescriptions.

"It’s difficult for a patient to have a relationship with a pharmacist when they have to use a mail-order pharmacy," he said. "And the use of mail-order pharmacies will force more small, independent pharmacies out of business."

Several pharmacists serve in their state legislature or are candidates running for state legislative office this year. When the legislature is not in session, many of these pharmacist legislators work in community pharmacies or for health systems.

"Most of us still have to work at our regular pharmacy jobs to survive. We’re not in government to get rich," said one pharmacist serving in his state legislature.

Southern persuasion. U.S. Representative Marion Berry (D-Arkansas) describes himself as the only licensed pharmacist in Congress. Also in Congress from Arkansas, Representative Mike Ross (D) is not a pharmacist, but his wife is, and he owns an independent community pharmacy.

Arkansas has two pharmacists serving in its Legislature. Senator Percy Malone (D-Arkadelphia) served three terms in the House before his election to the Senate in 2000. Representative Chaney Taylor Jr. (R-Batesville), who is also an attorney, was first elected to the House in 1998.

Georgia has the most pharmacists serving in its Legislature: Representatives David B. Graves (R-Macon), Bobby Eugene Parham (D-Milledgeville), Butch Parrish (D-Swainsboro), Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), and Ralph Twiggs (D-Hiawassee).

Joe Hutchins, a Georgia pharmacist, farmer, and former hospital administrator, is running as a Republican for the state’s 24th District House seat and said he has always enjoyed public service. He served for 14 years on his local school board in Barrow County and is a former president of the chamber of commerce.

Alabama Senate Majority Leader Tom Butler (D-Madison), a pharmacist for 31 years, said his pharmacy background has helped him to address local health care issues. Butler is in his second term in the Senate after serving 12 years in the House. He said he was inspired by his father, who worked on several political campaigns, and President John F. Kennedy to seek public office.

Three other pharmacists serve in Alabama’s Legislature: Senate President Pro Tempore Lowell Ray Barron (D-Fyffe) and Representatives Billy Beasley (D-Clayton) and Ronald G. Johnson (R-Sylacauga).

BeasleyBeasely, elected in 1998 from the 84th District, said he decided to seek office to "do something about the rising costs of medications."

"So many decisions are made in government about how I deliver pharmaceutical services to patients," he said. "I got involved [in government] to make a difference in providing health care services for the folks I represent."

Beasley has been a pharmacist for 40 years and owns three independent community pharmacies in Barbour County.

The Alabama legislator "strongly believes" that there should be a Medicare outpatient prescription-drug benefit program for seniors but is opposed to a bill passed in June by the U.S. House of Representatives. That proposed legislation would give control of such a program to pharmacy benefits managers and, through financial incentives, encourage seniors to use mail-order pharmacies. The use of mail-order pharmacies, Beasley said, dilutes a patient’s medication profile because pharmacists at the local level are excluded from a patient’s care.

"A pharmacist needs to have a total medication profile in his [or her] records. Otherwise, how can you counsel for drug interactions?" he said. "It is very important for a pharmacist to be part of that physician–patient–pharmacist triangle of care."

Virginia Delegate S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) said he also opposes the Republican-backed federal bill.

"I have called my Congressional representatives to let them know that the bill needs to be amended," he said.

Jones entered politics in 1986, when he was 27 years old, after being robbed at gunpoint just two months after opening a pharmacy in Suffolk. He first served on his city council and was mayor from 1992 to 1996. He was elected to the state’s Assembly in 1997.

Delegate Harvey B. Morgan (R-Gloucester), a retired pharmacist and assistant clinical professor at the Medical College of Virginia’s School of Pharmacy at Richmond, has served in the commonwealth’s Assembly since 1980.

Kentucky Senator Richard L. Roeding (R-Lakeside Park) is the president pro tempore of his state’s Senate. He has served there since 1991 and is a former director of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association.

Three pharmacists serve in Tennessee’s Legislature: Representatives Shelby A. Rhinehart (D-Spencer), David A. Shepard (D-Dickson), and Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge).

Rhinehart, who will retire from the legislature this year, was first elected to the House in 1958. He also served for 12 years as mayor of his hometown and has been a member of the Van Buren County Board of Education since 1956.

Shepard, a board-certified psychiatric pharmacist, is serving his first term in the Tennessee House. He took an early retirement from his job at the Nashville Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 1997 to run for the House seat.

Shepard helped pass legislation that created a database for tracking controlled substances dispensed in his state. He has been a pharmacist for 24 years and owns three independent community pharmacies. He entered politics when he was elected to the Dickson city council where he served from 1977 to 1989.

McNally, a pharmacist since 1969, served four terms in the Tennessee House before his election to the Senate in 1986.

Florida pharmacist Jim Ward said he was motivated by health care, education, and social service issues to get involved in politics. He is running as a Democrat for the 7th District Senate seat in Florida. Ward owned an independent community pharmacy for 20 years in his hometown of Port Orange where he served a four-year term on the city council and was mayor from 1992 to 1995. He is completing a six-year term on the Volusia County Council.

"It’s easy to get caught up in politics and local-level issues," he said.

Midwest encouragement. Algoma, Wisconsin, Town Supervisor Chuck Dinkel, a pharmacist for 28 years, sold his independent community pharmacy this year to run as a Republican for the 53rd District Assembly seat in his state.

"We need some representation from health care and I realized I had a lot of knowledge that I could share," he said. "We need to change government’s attitude so that they recognize that the profession is not just dispensing [medications]. The [state legislature] needs a pharmacist down there to explain issues regarding pharmacy concerns."

Dinkel served two four-year terms on Wisconsin’s Pharmacy Examining Board and one year as chairman.

"Who can better educate and explain to legislators about pharmacy and pharmacy issues than a pharmacist?" said pharmacist and executive search firm owner Curt Gielow, who is running as a Republican for Wisconsin’s 23rd District Assembly seat.

"I think the challenges of public health policy are so significant that anybody that has a background should be energized to participate," he said.

Gielow first got involved in politics when he ran for city alderman to find a solution to a local water problem. "I am now known as a guy who gets things done," he said.

WatsonThe frustration of dealing with government "red tape" is what prompted Illinois Senator Frank C. Watson (R-Greenville), a fourth-generation pharmacist, to seek public office.

He served two terms in the House before election to the Senate in 1982. Watson’s family has owned an independent community pharmacy in his hometown since 1881.

"I want to be a voice for the small-business community," he said, adding that he derives "a lot of personal satisfaction, not just political, by serving the public."

Watson helped pass legislation creating Illinois’s pharmaceutical assistance program that helps participants pay for approved medications used to treat heart and blood-pressure conditions, diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, glaucoma, and lung and smoking-related illnesses.

Representative Ron Stephens (R-Troy), also an Illinois pharmacist, was first elected to the state’s House in 1985. And Illinois’s governor, George Ryan (R), who is not seeking reelection this year, is also a pharmacist.

Another Midwest pharmacist, Representative Robert Osterhaus (D-Maquoketa), entered Iowa politics when an incumbent in the House unexpectedly died in 1996. Within three weeks, Osterhaus, a pharmacist for 47 years, had decided to run in a special election, was elected, and was sworn into office.

"I’ve always been interested in politics, but I sort of got into it by accident," he said.

Prescription drug costs and "making sure people understand the value of what pharmacists do," Osterhaus said, are issues of particular concern for him.

Osterhaus is also involved in environmental and economic issues in his district, an area that borders the Mississippi River.

East Coast savvy. New York Assemblyman Daniel J. Burling (R-Alexander), a pharmacist, helped pass legislation in his state that gives health care professionals the authority to administer epinephrine without a prescription to children in life-threatening situations, such as a child at a day camp who has an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Before the law passed, only physicians were allowed to prescribe the medication.

"In the state assembly, I’m the go-to guy for both pharmacy and prescription drug issues," he said. "When it comes to pharmacy and health care, I’ve been able to influence those issues positively."

Burling, owner of Burling Drug Inc. in Corfu, New York, served in the Genesee County Legislature from 1993 until his election to the state Assembly in 1998.

Western wisdom. Texas Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) ran for public office because she got angry about a state policy that ensured that cattle were properly vaccinated, yet the state did not provide a comprehensive immunization program for children.

"I owned a pharmacy in the barrio, and I thought that people making the policies had no idea what it was like to interact with those people who use public services," she said.

Van de Putte, a pharmacist for 23 years, said she helped pass legislation promoting better health care for women and children. She is also involved in several education and economic issues in her state.

Representative Chuck Hopson (D-Jacksonville), a pharmacist for 37 years, said he has always been involved in public service and decided to run for the Texas House because his home, independent pharmacy, car, and college loans were all paid and he wanted to contribute to his community.

Hopson served one 3-year term on his city council, 9 years on his local school board, and 12 years on his city’s planning and zoning commission.

"You have to have a high energy level to do this," he said.

ParletteLife’s experiences, said Washington Senator Linda Evans Parlette (R-Wenatchee), a pharmacist and orchardist, is the best thing a legislator can take with him or her to the statehouse.

Legislators, she said, are "in a position to solve problems, and it is so simple if you are honest and don’t trade votes. You have to have a moral compass, a rudder, directing you to [determine] right and wrong and do things for the right reasons."

Serving in the legislature, Evans Parlette said, is a customer-service job, as is practicing pharmacy.

Evans Parlette served on her local school board before her election to her state’s House of Representatives in 1996. She was elected to the Senate in 2000.

Other pharmacists serving in their state legislature include Representatives Joseph Bruno (R-Raymond) and Robert W. Nutting (R-Oakland), Maine; Delegates Bennett Bozman (D-Berlin), Donald B. Elliott (R-New Windsor), and Theodore J. Sophocleus (D- Linthicum), Maryland; Representative Stephen Ehardt (R-Lexington), Michigan; Representatives Merton S. Dyer (R-West Peterborough) and Maurice E. Goulet (R-Bedford), New Hampshire; Representative John A. Heaton (D-Carlsbad), New Mexico; Senator Leo R. Blais (R-Coventry), Rhode Island; and Delegates Larry W. Border (R-Davisville) and Don C. Perdue (D-Prichard), West Virginia.