Ryan Schneider, Pharm.D. Candidate, Ohio Northern University and OPA Extern
I am sure that you are all familiar with the saying "one person can make a difference." The question is, how many of you actually believe the saying, or is it just plain rhetoric? I must say that I did not truly believe that I could make a difference; after all, I am only a pharmacy student. "Call or write your legislator." I heard this said over and over, yet I had the misconception that my state legislators were holed up in these ivory towers in Columbus, and did not care what I had to say. After all, they were powerful elected officials, and I was simply an uninformed constituent. Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong. More than anything, my month rotation at OPA made me a believer in that one person can truly make a difference.
I have always had an interest in politics, but I never really had an idea about how the political process actually works. During my month in Columbus, I was directly involved in the legislative process. March was a busy time at the Statehouse with the biennial budget being debated. I attended numerous Finance Committee meetings where healthcare professionals and lobbyists argued against cuts in the Medicaid budget. In addition to the budget bill, I was involved in two other legislative issues directly related to pharmacy: HB 89 dealing with price posting of the top 100 medications in each pharmacy and therapeutic interchange by pharmacists in the community setting. Because these two issues were in different phases, I was able to experience firsthand the different aspects of the legislative process.
The therapeutic interchange issue was in its infancy, so I was able to see the process of introducing a bill. We met twice with Chairman White of the House of Representatives Health Committee, who was interested in sponsoring a therapeutic interchange bill. In the first meeting, OPA was represented as in favor of the bill and OSMA was represented in opposition of the bill. This first meeting was sort of a brainstorming session to see if the issue were practical, how it would work, as well as reasons for being in favor of or opposing the bill. We met again with Chairman White in order to further discuss the issue of therapeutic interchange, and to provide language to draft a bill. It was interesting to observe and participate in the process of introducing a bill.
The price posting issue was in a different phase of the legislative process, as it was already introduced as a bill in the House of Representatives. It was then sent to the House Health Committee where it faced hearings to discuss support and/or opposition. It so happened that OPA, as well as other pharmacy lobbyists, was opposed to this piece of legislation. I had the opportunity to testify before the Health Committee in opposition of this bill. It was a great experience for me to be directly involved in shaping the laws that affect my profession.
When I reflect on my involvement in the legislative process during my month at OPA, there are a number of issues I would like to share. Legislators are human beings just like you and me, and they are approachable. They have the power to make laws that affect each and every one of us and, oftentimes, they are not experts in the areas in which they make decisions. They rely on lobbyists and constituents who are affected by proposed legislation to educate them on various topics so they can make informed decisions. An example of this occurred in my testimony to the House Health Committee. Some members of this committee compared the pricing of prescription drugs to pricing of other consumer goods such as gasoline and milk. They truly believed that there was no difference in that they saw prescription drugs as consumer commodities. You and I know that this is not the case, but they did not. It was up to me to describe why consumer goods cannot be compared to prescription drugs.
The point that I would like to make is that without OPA lobbyists and active members of the profession of pharmacy, there would be no profession. Pharmacy, as we know it, could be gone in the blink of an eye if a bill were passed allowing technicians and or nurses to dispense medications. You don't think that this could happen? Why not... because OPA is lobbying for our profession and they won't let anything bad happen? While it is true that OPA lobbies to protect the profession of pharmacy, it can only do so much. Legislators need to hear a united voice, that being the voting constituents. While they respect the opinions of an organization, they are only in office because of the voting public, and they will listen when called upon. I found that only the people who step up to the plate to play will get their way. If you are not involved in the decision making process, you can't complain later when you no longer have a profession.
Do you really want people who know nothing about pharmacy to tell you how to practice? If not, then speak up! The next time I hear OPA ask me to call or write my legislator, I will...and you...what is your choice?
Ryan graduated from Ohio Northern University College of Pharmacy in May and is pursuing a graduate degree at The Ohio State University.