When it comes to advocating for independent pharmacy, Joe Ochoa, owner of Ochoa’s Pharmacy, knows what elected officials need from their constituents. As the former mayor of Edinburg, Texas, he has unique insight into the political system, which he applies to his advocacy work for independent pharmacy. And the first step is overcoming the fear of introducing yourself to a politician.
“What usually prohibits us from talking to an elected official is that we think they’re not going to take the time to listen to our issues or even be willing to have a casual conversation,” said Ochoa. “The biggest thing to understand is that these people aren’t untouchable. They’re regular people. And having been an elected official, I know that they always want to hear from their constituents. We just need to be the ones to make the initial contact.”
It’s more than just wanting to hear from people in the community though. It’s a necessity. Without a deep understanding of the issues their constituents are facing, politicians run the risk of losing touch and losing votes.
“All elected officials know the value of the vote,” said Ochoa. “And most of them understand the value that the independent pharmacist brings because we see so many people on any given day and we can have an influence in the community. Sometimes we forget that what we do reaches beyond the patients we see in the store. There’s a tremendous network of people out there—parents, children, aunts, uncles—and our voice is powerful because of that.”
Another advantage that independent pharmacists have when speaking to elected officials is the fact that their issues are bipartisan. They can reach out to representatives on both sides of the aisle because finding solutions to the problems that independent pharmacies face will benefit everyone. Even better, it doesn’t require any funding to resolve these issues and can save tax dollars as a result.
According to Ochoa, “It’s difficult to go in and ask for money or ask them to step outside of party lines, but it’s a different story when you’re talking about better access to care for all of their constituents. Then you’re not just representing your own interests. You’re representing the interests of every person in your community, where everyone stands to gain. That’s why you shouldn’t be afraid of politics—your issues transcend politics.”
Ochoa took all of this into consideration when he decided to help Representative Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), 15th Congressional District, with his recent campaign. When the representative was seeking congressional office in 2016, Ochoa invited him to his pharmacy, showed him around the store and brought him back to the drive-through window to meet customers. He took the time to cultivate a personal relationship through consistent communication and as much face-to-face interaction as possible. Then after Rep. Gonzalez was elected, it was easy for him to initiate conversations about pharmacy issues and advocate on behalf of his patients.
“If you want to get involved, all you need to do is make yourself known,” said Ochoa. “Eliminate the fear factor of introducing yourself, go out there and just tell your story. Let them know that you make a difference because of all the people who count on you. When you bring that much to the table, they’ll listen.”
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Pictured in the first photo from left to right: Joe Ochoa (Ochoa’s Pharmacy), Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Joe Ochoa’s son and Peter Kounelis (AmerisourceBergen). Pictured in the second photo from left to right: Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Joe Ochoa (Ochoa’s Pharmacy).