Pharmacy on Capitol Hill: A Student’s Perspective.

Joey Mattingly
Thanks to help from the Kentucky Pharmacists Association and the American Pharmacy Services Corporation I was able to attend the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) 39th Annual Conference on National Legislation and Government Affairs in Washington DC from May 14-16. Hundreds of pharmacists from around the country traveled to our nation’s capital to meet with Congressmen and Senators in an effort to ensure that the voice of the community pharmacist was heard. The two days were filled with keynote speakers, Political Action Committee breakfasts, lobbying in the interests of community pharmacy, and even political comedians to help those attending lighten up after discussing very serious issues all day. The following story tells the tale of the many adventures of a student pharmacist trying to be noticed by representatives among the hustle and bustle of Washington.

Beginning early Monday morning, I gathered with my Kentucky colleagues for the NCPA opening session located at the Hyatt Regency just a few blocks from the Capitol steps. NCPA helped prepare us for our upcoming Hill visit by providing everyone with specific information on issues that will directly affect community pharmacy. The main issues discussed were HB 1474 (a bill enforcing prompt payment by Medicare Part D carriers) and HB971 (a bill to allow independent pharmacies to negotiate collectively with Pharmacy Benefits Managers). My 1

objective was to get our Congressmen to co-sponsor these bills and to get our Senators to sponsor similar legislation on the Senate side. The first day included many exciting guest speakers including Political Analyst Mark Shields, Sen. Tom Coburn (R, Oklahoma), and the comedic group “Capitol Steps”. Tuesday was the day with all of the action. Early in the morning, NCPA brought in more guest speakers including Rep. Marion Barry (D, Arkansas) who is the only pharmacist in Congress, and Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee Rep. Charles Rangel (D, New York). One of the coolest moments for me happened while waiting in the hotel lobby. As I gathered with my group I noticed a small crowd surrounded by several men in black suits moving rather quickly towards the door. As they got closer I realized it was none other than Presidential candidate Sen. Hilary Clinton. As the Secret Service agents rushed Sen. Clinton past I wanted to take a picture, but I thought maybe it wasn’t wise to reach into my pocket and jerk out a metal object. After all of the commotion surrounding Sen. Clinton and Rep. Charles Rangel, we gathered to head over to the Capitol for the big news conference scheduled by NCPA to announce to the nation the purpose of our trip and to hear the support of the main sponsors of the pro-pharmacy legislation. This was my first time attending a news conference of this magnitude and I loved standing behind the podium with other pharmacists and student pharmacists while 10 different Congressmen and women further expressed their support of our profession. To make things even more exciting Rep. Geoff Davis (R, Kentucky) stood as one of the major speakers at the press conference, which made me proud to hear my fellow Kentuckian show such great support for our cause. Following the conference, meetings with all six Kentucky Congressmen were scheduled throughout the entire afternoon. My first meeting was with Rep. Ben Chandler (D, 6th District). We had a brief talk with Mr. Chandler who was on his way to vote, followed by a very detailed meeting with one of his assistants. Chandler’s assistant was very knowledgeable about the issues and remembered me from a meeting I had with her back in April. The assistant put a smile on my face when she reported that Mr. Chandler would be co-sponsoring our bills and supporting the community pharmacist. The next meeting was at the office of Rep. Ron Lewis (R, 2nd District). I really looked forward to the meeting, because as a native of Bardstown I am one of Mr. Lewis’ constituents. Unfortunately, Mr. Lewis was not able to meet with us but his legislative assistant invited us in to discuss our issues. The meeting started out like any other but then quickly took a turn for the worse when it was apparent that Mr. Lewis would not be supporting our legislation. It was disheartening to me as a student pharmacist to get the impression that my Congressman did not really care about the fair treatment of community pharmacists. His assistant gave me no real reason why Rep. Lewis would not support more negotiating rights or speedier payments from Medicare Part D that would help hundreds of Kentucky pharmacies stay in business and continue to provide patient care to thousands of Kentuckians. His assistant simply listened to our case and then thanked us for stopping by. I left that office with a sense of real frustration and realized that this must be the part of politics that keeps many people from getting involved, but I knew my job was not over because there were still other Kentucky Congressmen to meet. I followed the Kentucky group up to the office of Rep. Geoff Davis (R, 4th District) for a meeting with one of his top assistants. This meeting was expected to go a little smoother, knowing that Rep. Davis was one of the main supporters of the 2

“Prompt Pay” and “Negotiating Rights” bills. We wanted to show our gratitude as well as continue to talk about the importance of other issues like the definition of Average Manufacturers Price. The experience with Congressman Geoff Davis’ office was an extremely positive one. The meeting with Rep. Davis’ assistant was very positive and later that evening Rep. Davis attended a reception sponsored by NCPA. At the NCPA reception I had a chance to speak with Rep. Davis and share how extremely encouraging it was for me, as a student, to know that lawmakers like him truly recognized the value of the community pharmacist and were willing to stand with us. My final scheduled meeting was with Rep. Ed Whitfield (R, 1st District). I did not expect to meet with him, but he happened to be walking out of the office as our group walked in. He immediately made his way over to our group, introduced himself, and began to talk with us even though his assistants were telling him he needed to be somewhere soon. I enjoyed the short encounter with Rep. Whitfield and I felt like he was truly happy to see us. Following our short remarks with the Congressman, we had a meeting with one of his Legislative Assistants named Jeff. The meeting was very positive and we left knowing that Rep. Whitfield would also cosponsor the proposed bills to support the pharmacy profession. Unfortunately, scheduling kept me from meeting with Rep. John Yarmuth (D, 3rd District) or Rep. Harold Rogers (R, 5th District) but I was told that Rep. Yarmuth had agreed to cosponsor the NCPA bills. I left Kentucky hoping to make a difference and after two hectic days of politics I returned with a feeling of accomplishment. Our group helped convince four of Kentucky’s six congressmen to support legislation that would help community pharmacy. As a twenty-three year old student pharmacist from little Bardstown, Kentucky I learned to stand in front of lawmakers and make a strong case to earn their support. I returned to the Bluegrass state with a priceless education, not found in a textbook, that will help me influence pharmacy policy for the rest of my career. *Joey Mattingly is a Pharm.D./M.B.A. candidate at the University of Kentucky.

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