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1/31/2003

Advocacy, Member Involvement Shape Government Affairs Goals for 2003

Kate Traynor

ASHP's Government Affairs Division (GAD) plans this year to focus on ways to keep members informed of and involved in critical issues that will shape the pharmacy profession.

GAD Director Brian M. Meyer, M.B.A., said his group "is all about advocacy."

"We exist to take ASHP policy and try to have it implemented in state and federal legislation and regulation," he explained.

But to do this, ASHP needs the direct involvement of members who want to promote efforts to advance the pharmacy profession.

"I think we've seen growing participation on advocacy issues within our membership," said Kathleen M. Cantwell, Esq., director of federal legislative affairs and government affairs counsel for GAD.

She said that an important activity undertaken recently by members at their practice sites has been to serve as the host for visits by federal and state legislators, showing them how patients rely on pharmacists' services.

In addition to speaking directly with legislators, ASHP members have been writing to their members of Congress, Cantwell said. Some of this correspondence, she said, originated at letter-writing booths set up by pharmacy students interested in greater involvement in government activities.

Want to Get Involved?

The Government Affairs Division (GAD) has revamped a portion of the ASHP Web site to include new tools designed to foster members' involvement in advocacy issues.

"An easy way for [members] to be informed and stay informed is to sign up and be a member of our grassroots contact program," said GAD Director Brian M. Meyer, M.B.A.

Members of the grassroots network can opt to receive by e-mail GAD's monthly summaries of important legislative, regulatory, and state issues affecting pharmacy.

Later this year, GAD plans to enhance the Web-based advocacy center with details of pharmacy-related issues at the state level as well as information about ASHP's political action committee. To find out more about advocacy issues, contact GAD at gad@ashp.org.

Such interactions with legislators are crucial to securing Medicare's recognition of pharmacists as health care providers, which Cantwell said is a top federal legislative priority. Cantwell said ASHP, along with fellow members of the Pharmacist Provider Coalition, will press for the new Congress to advance this issue.

"We'll be working to get legislation reintroduced in both the House and the Senate, with strong bipartisan support," she said.

A related issue on GAD's radar screen for 2003 is the passage of collaborative drug therapy management (CDTM) laws by the states. Even if the federal law over Medicare changes to accord pharmacists the status of health care provider, about a dozen states and the District of Columbia still must pass legislation or modify their regulations so that pharmacists may exert the professional privileges inherent to CDTM laws.

"We've got 39 states that have [CDTM] on the books," said Meyer. ASHP, he said, will continue to work with pharmacists and the Society's state affiliates in the remaining states to pass CDTM laws or regulations.

Also at the federal level, Cantwell said GAD will work to revive certain legislative issues that Congress left unfinished when its previous session ended.

"Access and affordability of care is going to be big issue for the new Congress," Cantwell predicted. She said that access-related issues are likely to include the creation of a prescription drug benefit for Medicare outpatients and measures to assist the growing number of uninsured Americans.

Congressional debate on the adoption of medication error-reporting systems is also likely, Cantwell said. ASHP will push for legislation that, she said, provides "an adequate guarantee of protection" for health care providers who report errors to the systems.

The creation last year of the Department of Homeland Security has added a new government entity for ASHP to monitor and opened up new areas for member participation.

"We want to track the emergency response programs that are currently part of the Health and Human Services [HHS] Department and see which ones move over to ... Homeland Security," Meyer said. He added that GAD will monitor the movement into the new department of both known HHS officials and new faces that could affect pharmacy-related issues.

Meyer emphasized that, as health care providers, "pharmacists need to be involved in planning, training, and implementing emergency preparedness programs."

In the regulatory arena, input from the public, including professional organizations and their members, can affect federal policy. Gary C. Stein, Ph.D., GAD's director of federal regulatory affairs, will continue to monitor proposed and final federal regulations that could affect pharmacy practice.

Stein said that the addition of machine-readable coding to unit dose packages of medications—long a high-priority issue of ASHP's—seems to be moving forward on the regulatory front. "The Food and Drug Administration has been talking about issuing a proposed rule requiring bar coding on all drug products," he said, adding that he expects the agency to release its proposal by March of this year.

Another issue Stein has been following is the expected publication this year of a final regulation on revised conditions for hospitals' participation in Medicare and Medicaid. "We have been anxiously waiting for movement on that," Stein said, noting that the revisions were first proposed in 1997.

Stein said that, in addition to watching for these and other expected regulatory decisions, "we'll be looking at the Federal Register all the time just in case something comes up that will affect our members."