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By Sarah Mills, District Policy Group

CPNP had a successful end to 2018, closing out the year with a round of very productive meetings with House and Senate staff and making meaningful connections for the 116th Congress. CPNP has seen tremendous growth in our engagement with Congressional offices over the past couple of years. On the whole, staff is becoming more familiar with our organization and psychiatric pharmacists; some offices have even reached out to CPNP for input on legislative proposals. These are significant wins for our organization and membership.

The challenge for 2019 is to ensure we continue to foster these relationships while also educating the many new Members in Congress about the role of psychiatric pharmacists and continuing to be a voice for our members in the various stakeholder coalitions as well. We’ve made great progress with key Congressional offices recognizing the unique role psychiatric pharmacists stand to play in helping to improve treatment for mental health and substance use disorders and we’re continuing to work with these offices to identify opportunities to increase access to psychiatric pharmacists’ services in 2019 and beyond.

In addition, CPNP is seeking to expand our engagement with the Administration in 2019. As in previous years, our organization will continue to provide comment on regulations put forward by the Administration where relevant to psychiatric pharmacists. Beyond this activity, CPNP has plans to meet with staff for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to further educate them on the role of psychiatric pharmacists. In 2018, Congress passed a legislative package with numerous provisions aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic and improving treatment for those with opioid use disorders. Through our engagement with the agency, we seek to ensure psychiatric pharmacists are recognized for their expertise and included in the agency’s implementation efforts.

As we continue these efforts, it’s important that we are cognizant of some of the political realities we face in 2019 and that we are vigilant in monitoring ongoing legislative and regulatory activities to take advantage of possible opportunities and to address any unforeseen obstacles.

Congress, the Administration and Drug Pricing

The 2018 midterms brought a slew of new faces to Congress as well as a new Democratic majority in the House. Often, a divided Congress leads to partisan gridlock and a slowdown in productivity. Looking back at the kick-off of to the 116th, lawmakers found themselves in the midst of one of the longest government shutdowns in U.S. history. Republican lawmakers were quickly at odds with the new Democratic Majority and balancing the priorities of the Administration. Their precarious position will continue to be an issue as battles play out between the President and Congress and opportunities to move key legislation will be scarce.

One issue, however, where we’re seeing a flurry of activity is on drug pricing. Congress and the Administration are equally intent on tackling the high costs of drugs and leaders on both sides of the aisle are hoping this will create opportunity for them to score big in the 2020 elections. The issue enjoys broad bipartisan support – Republicans and Democrats alike are digging in on drug pricing, shining a light on the supply chain and working to flesh out who’s to blame for the increasing costs. On the heels of the shutdown, lawmakers got to work setting an aggressive agenda for hearings where pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers have been called upon to testify about their role in the drug pricing debate. In addition, the Administration has released multiple regulatory proposals aimed at increasing transparency, reducing beneficiary costs and overall costs to the Medicare program, and bringing stability to pharmacy reimbursement at the point-of-sale.

While lawmakers are relying heavily on engagement with stakeholders to help them identify solutions to this issue, it’s clear that many of the policies under consideration could also negatively impact patient access to safe and effective medications. Therefore, in following with the policy priorities established by our organization, CPNP will continue to engage with Congress, the Administration and outside coalitions to ensure policies to address the high costs of drugs do not limit or harm patients’ access to effective medications and services, including psychiatric pharmacists, to treat mental health and substance use disorders.

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