Pharmacy students and panelists check-up on the Affordable Care Act
Tuesday’s town hall discussion on the Affordable Care Act got pharmacy students pumped up about their future role as professionals and citizens.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee called from the floor of Congress to address the group of pharmacy students from both UH and Texas Southern University. The students had gathered to ask questions from panelists who represented industry as well as state and local government. Her message was clear: if you don’t have insurance, sign up.
“I am working very hard to get every citizen that needs insurance in the state of Texas enrolled, to have my district No. 1 in enrollment in the country and certainly to get my fellow Americans enrolled. We are the most powerful nation and the world is looking at us,” said Jackson Lee to the future pharmacists. “You are a part of that greatness. And great things will happen if we all work together.”
State representative and panelist Gene Wu spoke to students about the importance of their political participation. He said that despite the frustration many medical professionals feel when engaging politicians, which he likened to beating their heads against a wall, that it was their informed opinions that mattered most.
“Medical professionals of all kinds, you are some of the weakest, softest voices in the political arena. The people that know the best, who know the most, don’t speak up. I want to encourage you to be involved.” Wu said. “Don’t sit back. Go and tell people when something is wrong. When legislators are trying to pass a bill that you know is bad, come on in and tell them. Out of 150 people, we have three doctors, and those three voices get drowned out a lot.”
“For us, it’s not about politics, whether you support or don’t support the ACA,” said panelist Benjamin Hernandez, deputy assistant director of the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. “It’s that getting people into the system is a good thing to do.”
Hernandez said the municipal health department is trying to bring all the parties that have a stake in the ACA together with a focus on making sure that Houstonians can make the best of their new health care options.
Carol Harden-Oliver, president of the Texas Pharmacy Association, said pharmacists will be able to give information to people with questions about the role of government in health care. She also said the role of pharmacists is changing and that they must engage lawmakers who have power over their profession.
“What are you willing to do?” Harden-Oliver said. “You have to be ready to fight for your profession … The Affordable Care Act gives us an opportunity to step up out of production and into clinical care … or become irrelevant. That is the challenge.”
Bruce Biundo, panelist and TPA’s 2013 pharmacist of the year, said that pharmacists must “break down the barriers where physicians feel threatened by what pharmacists are doing” by the scope of practice of pharmacists now and in the future regarding direct patient care. He is also a consultant with the Professional Compounding Centers of Americas, representing pharmacists who custom-mix medications for patients.
“It was good to hear that health care provider status for pharmacists in California had passed,” said third-year pharmacy student and student political advocacy co-chair John Herman. “It’s unfortunate that it will take two years to get issues like this addressed here in Texas. That was the thing that was most significant to me: to remember to not lose focus and stay active.”
Other students, such as third-year pharmacy student Daniel Nguyen, hoped the ACA would see a strong response in enrollment. Many in the audience saw the ACA as a positive move for the pharmaceutical industry. Others, such as Renee Pinkston, a first-year pharmacy student, were hoping to hear more about the rejection of Medicaid expansion here in Texas and other political decisions at the federal and state level.
The town hall was organized by the students with the American Pharmacists Association’s Academy of Student Pharmacists, the Student National Pharmaceutical Association, and the National Community Pharmacists Association.