By Representative Tom Marino and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers\
The Federal Trade Commission will soon make its final decision on the $29.1-billion merger of two of the largest pharmacy benefit managers in the country. While concerns have been expressed about this specific merger, particularly its impact on mail order and specialty pharmacies, the debate raises much broader concerns about jobs, the economy, protecting small businesses, and ensuring that our loved ones have the best possible access to high quality health care.
Our nation continues to struggle through one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression. Unemployment (8.3 percent in February) has now been above 8 percent for 37 consecutive months. A recent report from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 23.5 million people were either unemployed or underemployed. Turning the economy around and reversing the course of chronically high unemployment demands stronger solutions to allow small businesses to grow and thrive.
For many communities, and in particular small towns, local independent pharmacies are small businesses that are often the economic backbone. The service these pharmacies provide is unmatched. Community pharmacists know their patients as friends and neighbors and will take the extra step to ensure the right medicines and doses are provided. Also, we've seen time and time again that these local pharmacies are committed to working around the clock to ensure medication and other critical supplies are available to all those in need, particularly after natural disasters or in other extraordinary times. This high level of care is not only better for the health of patients, but it lowers overall health care costs, which benefits all Americans. In addition to providing personal care that is beyond compare, independent pharmacies provide stable, long-term careers.
Yet, community pharmacies face a growing number of economic pressures that threaten to drive many of them out of business. If left unaddressed, jobs will be lost, services will be eliminated, and seniors and others will be forced to either drive long distances or rely on the mail for their life-saving medications.
Particularly during these difficult economic times, policymakers and regulators should work to strengthen and encourage small businesses such as independent, community pharmacies. While we believe the merger of Express Scripts and Medco has the potential to increase costs and drive many small pharmacies out of business, community pharmacies still face substantial challenges regardless of the Federal Trade Commission's decision.
That is why reforms, such as those included in HR 1946, the Preserving Our Hometown Independent Pharmacies Act of 2011 and HR 1971, the Pharmacy Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2011, are critical to preserving and protecting these community pillars and should be given full consideration by both houses. These important pieces of legislation are supported by local pharmacists throughout the districts we represent and by groups such as the National Community Pharmacists Association and the Association of Community Pharmacies Congressional Network which collectively represent tens of thousands of community pharmacists across the nation. Both bills would give small pharmacies new tools and protections that will allow them to compete in a market dominated by large corporations.
At a time when Congress is looking for better ways to encourage small businesses to create jobs and grow the economy, protecting independent community pharmacies is one way to achieve this goal.