Home-state pride: Asim Ali advocates for pharmacists in New York and all across the United States.
I like to think of democracy as a muscle. If you do not exercise it frequently, it will atrophy and weaken. Whether the circumstances are fighting for your basic human rights or contesting a simple parking ticket in court, every effort to flex democracy counts. It is an unspoken duty for all citizens and U.S. residents to practice it continually.
One of the greatest forms of democracy comes from advocacy. As student pharmacists, we took an oath not only to forward our profession, but also to always keep the interests of our patients in mind. If you don’t advocate for your profession, someone else may take advantage of pharmacy for their own benefit.
Holding lawmakers accountable
Although the power of changing laws and policies in this country ultimately lies in the hands of legislators, I think we often underestimate that we are the reason they’re allowed to hold such power. No matter whom you vote for, always hold your lawmakers accountable for both the promises they make and those they break.
The promise I look for in lawmakers is their commitment to advancing health care. One issue I am concerned about is the ongoing pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) crisis. The year 2020 showed us that establishments may justify unethical practices by weaponizing democracy, as in Rutledge v. Pharmaceutical Care Management Association. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision to give lawmakers the ability to craft legislation that will allow proper regulation of unethical PBM practices.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court gave legislators the green light, our duties as student advocates do not end there. It is crucial to take the fight from one branch of government to another.
I’ll never forget getting a phone call from Jessica Burnell, the chief health care policy advisor for Rep. Brian Higgins (D–NY). I had sent an e-mail to the congressman’s office 2 months earlier requesting a meeting to discuss how the various practices of PBMs are impacting small pharmacy business owners, patients, and even federal taxpayer dollars. I was finally being given the opportunity. APhA–ASP gave me a platform to make meaningful impact on policy, and this was my chance to seize the moment.
Making my case
At the meeting, I led the discussion with the support of my D’Youville APhA–ASP Chapter, using a PowerPoint created from independent research along with resources provided by the academy. I talked about how PBMs have unethically treated pharmacists and patients by implementing price-spreading tactics, pocketing rebates, and more importantly, saddling pharmacies committed to providing care for their patients with unnecessary direct and indirect remuneration fees.
Ms. Burnell was astonished to hear that PBMs were getting away with these tactics. She told me that Congress has its priorities fixed this year, but she assured me that Rep. Higgins’s office would consider the issue in 2022. Although it was not the immediate assurance I had hoped for, I have faith that the 117th Congress will keep pharmacists in their thoughts when drafting health care policies. Until then, APhA–ASP will continue to do what we always do: Advocate for our profession, no matter what the circumstances.