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PALM BEACH, Fla. — In his first remarks as chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Martin Otto outlined the challenges facing the American health care system, which is characterized by higher costs and poorer outcomes than those of many other developed countries.

“There are a lot of structural issues in the health care system that we’ve got to address as a nation, and my hope is that through NACDS we can be part of the ­solution.”

Otto, who is the chief merchant and chief financial officer at H-E-B, spoke during a morning business program at last month’s NACDS Annual Meeting. Other speakers included outgoing NACDS chairman Randy Edeker, the president and chief executive officer at Hy-Vee Inc., and Steve Anderson, president and CEO of NACDS. Conference attendees also heard from former House Speaker John Boehner and former Joint Chiefs of Staff general Martin Dempsey.

In his comments, Otto described the challenges facing the health care system as dire. Health care spending in the United States now amounts to about 20% of GDP, up from 18% in 2013.

“In other developed nations, it’s 10% to 12%,” he said, arguing that the difference puts U.S. companies in a difficult position when it comes to competing with rivals in other countries. And despite spending more per capita on health care, the U.S. has lower life expectancy at birth than other countries, as well has higher rates of infant mortality, obesity and diabetes than other developed countries.

Part of the problem for people living in the United States is that the amount of time they can spend with health care providers is more limited, and Otto noted that this is a situation that could be improved if U.S. pharmacists could do more to help their ­patients.

Allowing pharmacists to do more to help their patients is partly a political problem, and in his own remarks Edeker pointed out some of the ways that NACDS’ lobbying efforts have paved the way for retail pharmacists to be part of the solution to America’s health care woes. He noted that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) supported Senate Bill 314 and House Bill 592, which would expand pharmacists’ ability to practice at the full extent of their license.

“This is key legislation expanding Medicare Part B so that our pharmacists in our stores can take care of our customers in a better and more expanded way to bring critical care to underserved areas,” Edeker said.

Anderson noted that, despite the popular conception of Washington as a place riven by partisan conflict and characterized by gridlock, NACDS has been able to get things done. He pointed to the bipartisan support given to legislation supported by NACDS, including bills supporting an expansion of what pharmacists can do to provide health care services to their patients.

“We have 60% of the House of Representatives as cosponsors of this provider status bill,” Anderson said. “Not just supporting it, but at the higher level of being cosponsors. We have 40% of the Senate involved in this. And with our cosponsors in the House, talk about bipartisan: We have 148 Republicans and 124 Democrats as cosponsors. If that’s not bipartisan, I don’t know what is. With the Senate cosponsors it’s the same. We have 19 Republicans on the provider status and 23 Democrats — almost 50/50.”

Lobbying capabilities are critical, but they are not all that NACDS has to offer its members, said Edeker, pointing to the opportunities the organization offers for building the relationships that are critical to the success of retailers and suppliers. He argued that all the mergers and acquisitions reshaping the industry haven’t changed that.

“There are more retailers, more members and more suppliers at this event than there were in previous years,” Edeker said. “That speaks to the strength of NACDS.”