CHICAGO — Food Marketing Institute is acknowledging the increased importance of pharmacy and health-related services in supermarkets by launching a major public affairs initiative.
The association, based in Arlington, Va., has formed the FMI Pharmacy Affairs Council to make the voice of supermarket pharmacies, as well as other pharmacies, heard on federal legislative and regulatory issues, said Greg Jones, chairman of FMI's Pharmacy Services Committee in his opening remarks to the FMI Pharmacy Conference here last week. Jones also is director of pharmacy for Harmon City, West Valley City, Utah. The Pharmacy Conference was co-located with the FMI Show.
The effort will focus exclusively on national affairs, but members and staff made no secret that it stems from food industry dissatisfaction with the direction that recent government laws and regulations have gone. FMI, with its prowess at influencing federal policy, hopes to lend a strong voice to the pharmacy industry.
“Another voice in the pharmacy area is going to be very helpful,” said Dan Milovich, director of pharmacy operations for Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. Milovich was one of several supermarket pharmacy executives interviewed by SN during the Pharmacy Conference.
“It reflects the increased importance of pharmacy to the retailers and to the community,” noted Bob Dufour, director of professional services and government relations, Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark.
“Legislation is a very, very important part of our business now,” said David Chan, director of pharmacy at Scolari's Food & Drug Co., Sparks, Nev. One example is the federal budget reduction that cut Medicaid reimbursements to pharmacy. “We need to have somebody on the FMI side, just like NACDS [National Association of Chain Drug Stores] does, to make our voice heard about problems and ask the legislators to respond,” he said.
FUNDED BY MEMBERS
The program is being initially funded by a group of 10 association members, and FMI is in the process of hiring a vice president of pharmacy services, who will build and lead the program, Jones said.
John Motley, senior vice president of government and public affairs, now heads up the effort, and the new vice president will report to him. He also hopes to have the new vice president hired as soon as the end of this month. Motley declined to name the 10 members providing the funding, but said they are large, medium and small companies, and he hopes to have 10 more in the near future.
The initiative was approved by the FMI board of directors last fall, but had its official unveiling at the Pharmacy Conference last week, he said. Motley hopes to have the new vice president hired by the end of this month. The Moran Co., a Washington-based health care research and consulting firm, has already been hired to provide FMI with analysis, modeling and solutions on health care and pharmacy, he said. The new vice president will be involved in hiring a lobbying firm, which will work with Motley and an existing group of eight federal lobbyists. The new vice president will also put together a three- or four-person staff.
Supermarkets with pharmacy programs are known to be unhappy with the results of recent Medicare and Medicaid revisions, as well as the Combat Meth Act that required pseudoephedrine cough, cold and allergy products to be stocked behind the counter and sold with onerous paperwork.
FMI's members “didn't like what happened in Medicare. They didn't like what happened with meth. They didn't like what happened with Medicaid, and they feel that they need more resources directed” at the federal level, Motley said.
He said FMI is not trying to duplicate services offered by other organizations, “at least not in the beginning.” The association aims to create a program “focused on federal pharmacy policy that enhances the ability of the pharmacy industry and profession to impact that policy. That is the bottom line.”
While Motley and key members of FMI's pharmacy committee took pains not to express dissatisfaction with NACDS efforts on these laws, especially under the tenure of former association President Craig Fuller, others were not so politic.
“I think that NACDS dropped the ball when it came to Medicare Part D,” said Randall Smith, district pharmacy manager, Sweetbay Supermarket, Tampa, Fla. “We do need another entity to get involved in legislative issues that will look out for the small pharmacy chain interests.”
Steve Anderson, the new president and chief executive officer of NACDS, Alexandria, Va., said, “In my new role, I welcome the assistance of FMI on the issues that confront community pharmacy. It is important that we work together and not fragment the industry so we can be effective.” Many supermarkets are members of NACDS as well as the FMI pharmacy program, and Walgreens, Deerfield, Ill., is a member of FMI in addition to NACDS, Motley noted.
Anderson, who joined the association in January, has initiated a “top-to-bottom” review of NACDS “to ensure that we are appropriately leveraging our strengths to be responsive to the pharmacy industry. FMI has been of help to us in the past and we look forward to their assistance in the future,” he said.
The National Community Pharmacists Association, Alexandria, Va., represents mostly smaller and independent pharmacy retailers. “We welcome an increased involvement in pharmacy issues by the supermarket industry and we look forward to working with any group that shares our interest in AMP [Average Manufacturer's Price] corrective legislation, Medicare Part D changes to address low and slow reimbursement, and other government affairs issues,” said spokesman Bob Appel.
“I think NACDS does a great job and I think NCPA does a great job,” said John Beckner, director of pharmacy and health services at Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va.
“FMI agrees with a lot of things that those groups do, but there are some things that they don't necessarily agree on. So when you are dealing with legislative and regulatory issues as complex as pharmacy, the more the merrier in terms of lobbying and related efforts,” Beckner said.
“I would expect the FMI Pharmacy Affairs Council will deal with the NACDS policy group and will deal with NCPA,” said John Fegan, senior vice president of pharmacy for Ahold USA, Quincy, Mass. “We do need to speak with one voice, but when we do speak with one voice, all the factors need to be known, and not have us go off as a retail industry off in one direction to the disadvantage of a major group like grocery stores.”
The behind-the-counter pseudoephedrine solution to the meth problem was one example, he said. While all drug stores have pharmacies and have less of a problem with this approach, not all supermarkets do, he said.
“I personally consider NACDS my drug store group. I just want to make sure that NACDS hears all of the food store story. I definitely think NACDS has represented pharmacy well over the years of my career, and they continue to do so,” Fegan said.
“I think it's a good move,” said Curtis Hartin, senior director of pharmacy, Bi-Lo, Greenville, S.C. “There are a lot of really important issues out there that affect pharmacy, and many times, with some of the positions taken by the other industry organizations, whether it is the independents or the chain drug stores, our desires and needs aren't quite congruent.”
Having a stronger voice on federal issues will help the different pieces of the pharmacy business align better so we really can speak with one voice. That's really the key to success is to make sure that we are all saying the same thing,” he said.
“You have to have a cohesive voice so everyone is telling the same story and everyone is working toward the same goal,” said Ron Peters, vice president of pharmacy at Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas.
The pseudoephedrine issue is one example where supermarkets have a distinct viewpoint from chain drug, “and there is more of that possibly coming, which I hope very much doesn't happen with dextromethor-phan.” There is also a local problem in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with Tylenol PM mixed with heroin, he added. “We don't have any more room in the pharmacy to put in more over-the-counter products,” Peters said.
The FMI pharmacy policy initiative is “overdue,” said Michele Snider, senior director of pharmacy, Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif. “It's good to have FMI paying attention to what the members' needs are and to make sure that we are heard at the table in Washington, so that the word gets out on what supermarket pharmacy needs are, not just pharmacy in general.”
Additional reporting: Wendy Toth