Hub on policy and advocacy, April 2013

Twlug2013 Political Leadership Reception; California bill recognizes pharmacists as providers

Pharmacy’s on the team at Twlug2013 Political Leadership Reception

At the Twlug2013 Political Leadership Reception on Friday evening, keynote speaker Rep. Raul Ruiz, MD, (D-CA) a first-term Member of Congress trained in emergency medicine, wowed a crowd of more than 500 with his personal story, professional experience with pharmacists, and call to community service and political involvement.

Proceeds from the reception benefited the Twlug Political Action Committee (Twlug–PAC) and the Twlug Political Leadership Fund.

Ruiz: ‘Get involved’

“I encourage you to get involved. I encourage you to think beyond the laboratory or the pharmacy,” Ruiz told a buzzing room of pharmacists and student pharmacists. “Go into the community. Come to Washington, DC. Be involved in all levels of government that make rules on how you practice pharmacy in your community.”

Ruiz cited the advent of the Affordable Care Act and health care being in flux. Now more than ever, he said, “It is imperative that we work together as a team, as a health care team, through policy, through best practices. That is why it is important that pharmacists also have a voice in Congress and have a seat at the policy-making table—just like they have their seat at the table during rounds in the hospital ward,” he continued.

It’s important to get engaged and educate policy makers, Ruiz said. He added, “There can be a role for pharmacists to be solutions in addressing the lack of care that we have in underserved communities [and] the disparities that we have in our health care system.”

Ruiz, the son of farmworkers, said that education was his path to the American dream. He earned enough money to go to college by walking from business to business in his hometown in the Coachella Valley, promising to become a physician and return to the community to help others.

“More important than the money was the idea that a community came together in the belief of a young man’s dream to defy the odds to become a physician and come back home,” Ruiz said. “And when I was 17 years [old], I set sail on this journey in pursuit of an education and found empowerment along the way.”

After graduating magna cum laude from the University of California, Los Angeles, he became the first Latino to receive three graduate degrees from Harvard University—in addition to his MD, he earned a master’s degree in public policy and a master’s degree in public health.

“Pharmacists were my educators and my saviors in [a] time of difficult moments with difficult decisions to save a patient’s life,” Ruiz said. “And in my training, and as an emergency medicine physician, pharmacists are my resource and my reference.”


Steve C. Firman, BSPharm, MBA, Twlug–PAC Board of Governors Chair, welcomed attendees to the reception and introduced Ruiz and awardees.

“The event greatly exceeded our expectations,” Firman told Pharmacy Today. “The turnout was tremendous, our award winners received a warm response from the attendees, and Rep. Ruiz’s message was tailor-made to encourage our members, especially the student pharmacists, to become politically aware and active. I am already looking forward to next year.”

The recipient of the Hubert H. Humphrey Award was Bob Greenwood, BSPharm, a community pharmacy owner and community leader in Waterloo, IA.

Selected in recognition of his activities related to the political process at the local, state, and national levels to promote civic and community development, as well as the important role pharmacists play in the health care system, Greenwood noted at the reception that he graduated from pharmacy school in 1977 but didn’t become politically active until 1987. He advised student pharmacists to seize the moment, to find a mentor and network, and to get involved.

The recipient of the Good Government Student Pharmacist-of-the-Year Award was Jonathan W. Magness, a 2013 PharmD candidate from the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. He was selected in recognition of his collaboration, teamwork, and advocacy for local and national legislation through a network of students, technicians, pharmacists, and legislators.

Student challenge

Twlug2013 marked the third year of the Twlug Academy of Student Pharmacists Winter is Cold … But Advocacy is Hot! Twlug–PAC Match Challenge, won again this year by the University of Florida College of Pharmacy.

Rounding out the rest of the top five—there was a tie for fifth place—were the East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, West Virginia University School of Pharmacy, University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy, Samford University McWhorter School of Pharmacy, and University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Pharmacy.

Q&A with Rep. Raul Ruiz, MD (D-CA)

As a physician and a Member of Congress, how do you see pharmacists as members of the health care team?

Pharmacists are a vital part of the health care team. Pharmacists are educators in our training as physicians. Pharmacists are resources whom we turn to to help us decide [on] medications. Pharmacists are a safeguard to provide high-quality care and to reduce medical error and to ensure that we have high-quality, cost-effective health care not only in the hospitals but in the community.

How can pharmacists be a solution to improve patient access to health care?

I think that pharmacists are incredible proponents of making sure that our patients have access to medicine—that we have access to life-saving medicine and also the medications that we use to treat chronic care so that [patients] don’t get into an emergency and then come to us in the emergency department where it drives up health care costs, et cetera.

And when we look at addressing disparities, we have to make sure that the resources that the pharmacists provide and the skills that they have are also given and provided in underserved areas where we have hard-to-reach populations that are the same populations that need assistance in health education.

Can you tell a story, or do you have a memory about working with a pharmacist?

It’s so integral to how we practice medicine that it is almost a daily occurrence where we call a community pharmacist to discuss a patient and to discuss the logistics of their insurance and what the patient can receive but also the appropriate path to treatment for a patient with certain illnesses.

And in terms of any specific one that really stands out, I can tell you that there [have] been frequent occasions when I’m working overnight, and I have a patient who has multiple pathologies and illnesses, and even patients who are pregnant, who come in with illness—and I need to consult [with] the pharmacist to provide the best quality care for the patient.

California bill recognizes pharmacists as providers

In California, a package of bills intended to allow pharmacists (SB 493), nurse practitioners (SB 491), and optometrists (SB 492) to practice to the full extent of their education and training was introduced on February 21 and announced at a news conference on March 13 by state Sen. Ed Hernandez, OD (D-24), who is Chair of the Senate Health Committee. A parallel bill introduced for physician assistants is being carried by another author.

The California Pharmacists Association (CPhA) supports the proposed legislation, which is authored by Hernandez, a practicing optometrist, according to CPhA CEO Jon R. Roth, CAE. The bills are just now beginning their journey through the legislative process.

“This legislation is tied to the national push for provider status,” Roth told Pharmacy Today. “In fact, one section of the bill states that it would declare pharmacists as health care providers in the state of California. This is important because we want to ensure that pharmacists have the ability to join medical homes, accountable care organizations, and other systems of care where provider status may be important.”

A fact sheet from Hernandez’s office built a case that the bills are intended to address the current “primary care physician workforce shortage” that will be compounded by the incoming flood of 4.7 million Californians eligible for health insurance starting in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act.

Efforts to train more primary care physicians will take 7–10 years to realize the benefits, and in the meantime, millions of patients will be waiting to access care, Roth said. “Pharmacists are highly trained and widely deployed throughout communities, and so it makes perfect sense to use this health care workforce to provide basic primary care services to our residents.”