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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Chris Lane took the gavel as the newly elected chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores last month with a call to collective action on the challenges facing ­pharmacists.

“Whether you are a chain or associate member, your active engagement in supporting and promoting our Access Agenda and legislative efforts is essential if we are going to effectively navigate the future and win,” Lane told NACDS Annual Meeting attendees. “Collaboration will get us there.”

Lane, a former pharmacist, is executive vice president of Wakefern Food Corp., the nation’s largest retail-owned cooperative. Wakefern’s cooperative framework lends credence to the maxim that “there’s strength in numbers,” he said.

Lane succeeds Albertsons Cos. senior vice president Mark Panzer as NACDS chairman. In accepting the gavel, Lane affirmed NACDS’ commitment to “supporting all dimensions of today’s retail pharmacy,” declaring that “it’s an approach that makes NACDS more than a trade ­association.”

Of particular import is the issue of direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees, which represent a major threat, according to ­Panzer.

“Let’s be clear. We’re not just talking about pressure on our companies, or challenges. Words like ‘pressure’ and ‘challenges’ don’t tell the story. Survival. Now that word accurately tells the story,” Panzer said. “Given the reimbursement environment we are currently operating in, that’s what it’s about.”

NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson — who, like Panzer, spoke at the meeting’s first business session — gave what he described as DIR 101: “Pharmacies are getting crushed with retroactive and huge charges from payers — months after the transaction,” he said. “Pharmacies are being penalized for not hitting quality measures — over which pharmacies have little or no control. No business can operate like this. It’s not just unpredictable, it’s unworkable. It’s below-cost reimbursement for prescription drugs.”

Anderson and Panzer both described how NACDS is focused on waging creative, proactive and ever-more-sophisticated campaigns on crucial issues like this one.

“Here’s the mentality,” Anderson said. “It’s not enough to work the issues. We need to aggressively wage campaigns — vigorous campaigns that target those things that matter most. The campaigns bring a new approach, a better approach. It’s an even more sophisticated way to set the strategy, to ‘white-board’ everything NACDS does, to engage the membership, to lead the team and to measure the results.”

The campaign for DIR fee relief has gotten traction. Anderson noted that last November, with the urging of NACDS, the National Community Pharmacists Association and others, Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar suggested a potential solution, in the form of a proposed Medicare rule that would help to close a loophole that leads to unpredictable and unfair reimbursement for pharmacies, and increases patients’ out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs.

Additional advocacy priorities identified by Lane include:

• Maintaining patients’ access to prescription medicines while reducing their out-of-pocket costs — and defending the viability of pharmacies.

• Expanding patient access to health care by expanding the services pharmacies can offer.

• Continuing the work NACDS began to reduce opioid abuse while maintaining access to this essential medication.

Lane said his tenure as NACDS chairman will be informed by a respect for pharmacy that dates back to his earliest years, and includes valuable lessons learned from both pharmacy practice and retail business ­management.

“I learned that a successful pharmacy was built on the relationships that pharmacists had with their customers,” Lane recalled. “Those interactions — between customer and caregiver — were the life-blood of the business. Today, I believe the same thing holds true — it’s a caring and compassionate pharmacist who keeps customers coming back.”