In early February 2016, University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy students Kyle Troksa (P-3), Eric Yang (P-2), Rupa Parikh (P-2), Jenn Tunoa (P-2), Niko Kovacich (P-1), and Laura Becker (P-1) visited Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to lobby for pharmacy provider status.
The main purpose of this visit was to promote the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, which is known to congressmen/women as bills H.R. 592 and S. 314. In the days prior to the lobbying session, we were briefed on this bill with the intention of being well versed in its contents before lobbying to congressmen/women. This briefing was important as it outlined the role of, and need for, pharmacists as crucial members of the healthcare provider team. We also were able to practice our lobbying skills with the staff members of the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists, which was a great opportunity for us to represent our school in front of dozens of other students and professionals from across the nation.
Representing Skaggs, pharmacy
After spending hours preparing ourselves for our encounter, we were ready to represent our school, state, and profession during our meeting with Colorado State Senator Michael Bennet and his staff. Once we arrived and checked in at the front desk of his office, we were asked to wait momentarily until the conference room was available. As we waited, we were able to look around Senator Bennet’s office; it felt just like home—all of the pictures on the wall were of the Rocky Mountains, other Colorado scenery, and the wildlife that inhabits it. It almost seemed like we were meeting in a ski lodge in Colorado after a long day of skiing. After a few minutes of waiting and observing, we were cleared to meet one of Senator Bennet’s staff members, Dr. Rita Habib, PharmD.
During this meeting, we lobbied for pharmacy provider status, specifically Senate Bill S.314 (AKA Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act). We discussed how the demand for healthcare providers is growing (mainly due to an increase in the U.S. elderly population and recent changes in healthcare policy) and pharmacists will be an essential player in covering this gap in healthcare. We also discussed the fact that pharmacists have been proven to:
- increase patients’ access to healthcare,
- drastically increase the quality of healthcare that patients receive, and
- accomplish all of these things at a decreased net cost to the patient/system.
We explained to Dr. Habib that outwardly supporting and passing a bill like this one should be considered, as Senator Bennet has not publicly supported it yet. It seems that Senator Bennet is not the only congressman/woman who is unsure about this bill and it is our job to change that. The reason why Senator Bennet and many others are waiting to release their stance on this bill is because they are waiting for a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Score to assess the impact that this bill will have on the federal budget; this score should hopefully be released sometime later this year. Regardless, towards the end of our meeting with, Dr. Habib, we were assured that our efforts were noted and that as pharmacy students, we have a large voice in the future of our profession.
Visiting Senate, House Chambers
After meeting with Dr. Habib, we were given passes to visit both the Senate and the House of Representative Chambers. Because we had a staff member leading us around, we were able to ride on the congressional subway, which was a real treat. As we disembarked from the train, we ran into Senator Bennet and were able to get a quick photo with him before his next meeting. Although he did not have much time to talk, he expressed his gratitude for our dedication to the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, as well as acknowledged that we were model representatives for our profession and the State of Colorado.
Future of Pharmacy Profession
After briefly speaking with Senator Bennet, we were able to spend more time visiting the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court. For our last event of the day, we were scheduled to meet with Senator Buddy Carter, RPh. from Georgia. The reason that we met with Senator Carter is because he is the only current congressman who is a pharmacist. He has been a strong advocate of pharmacy-related issues in the U.S. government and is constantly striving for the recognition of pharmacists as providers. He gave us a very humble and inspirational speech, stating that we are the future of our profession, and we have the ability to enact change that will improve the healthcare system and society as a whole.
The six University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy students that attended this year’s ASHP Legislative Day learned a great deal about the role that each of us plays in advancing the profession of pharmacy. The skills we developed during our short time in Washington D.C. are skills that we all hope to apply within our local communities to help motivate our peers and patients to support the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, making pharmacists healthcare providers in all states across the nation.