REIMBURSEMENT, SNOW TOP NCPA EVENT

DENVER -- Heralding its new collective-bargaining task force, the National Community Pharmacists Association attempted to give attendees of its annual trade show here some good news in retail pharmacy's ongoing struggles with the managed-care industry.But many of the show's expected 5,000 participants were engaged in more immediate battles, as the area's biggest snowstorm in memory made simply getting

DENVER -- Heralding its new collective-bargaining task force, the National Community Pharmacists Association attempted to give attendees of its annual trade show here some good news in retail pharmacy's ongoing struggles with the managed-care industry.

But many of the show's expected 5,000 participants were engaged in more immediate battles, as the area's biggest snowstorm in memory made simply getting there a challenge.

Todd Dankmyer, the Alexandria, Va.-based association's spokesman, estimated that 70% of the hoped-for total actually turned out for the Oct. 25 to 29 convention. At the opening reception, partygoers swapped stories of diverted flights and eight-hour cab rides from Denver International Airport to downtown hotels.

Three days into the show, some exhibitors were just setting up their booths. Others, their delegates waylaid, were represented only by an empty space and a pallet full of the raw materials of a display.

Those who made it to the conference center learned the purpose of the task force -- to be composed of pharmacists, pharmacy benefit managers, lawyers and others -- will be to find a legal way for independent pharmacists to bargain collectively with third-party payers on reimbursement contracts. A preliminary report is due by the end of February 1998.

"We see this as a core issue in helping our people stay in business," said Calvin Anthony, NCPA executive vice president, who announced the creation of the initiative during his address to the convention. "We can no longer tolerate the domination of our profession by the insurance industry."

According to John Rector, staff director of the NCPA's political action committee, the association plans to argue that independent pharmacists have been reduced to employee status by take-it-or-leave-it third-party contracts, and thus should have collective-bargaining power.

The NCPA also introduced at the show a service called Valu-Switch, designed to save participants money on electronic prescription claims.

Reimbursement for pharmacist care, or cognitive services, was the hot topic in many of the show's workshops and symposiums, as it was at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores' pharmacy conference in August.

Pharmacists were instructed on how to set up diabetes, cardiovascular, asthma, assisted-reproductive, immunization and other services, and speakers stressed how much these services save managed-care organizations.

"Short-term, the problem is convincing insurance companies of our expertise," said Harvey Hanna, a pharmacist representing Saywell's Drug Store, Hudson, Ohio. "Long-term, cognitive services will be paid for, either by mutual agreement or through legislation."