Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), 9th Congressional District, is renowned for his dedication to independent community pharmacy. In May, he introduced the Phair Pricing Act to ensure the savings that PBMs negotiate are passed along to patients at the point of sale. And in 2017, he fought to protect community pharmacists by introducing the Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act. You would think with this level of steadfast support he must have been a pharmacist in a former life, but that’s not the case. Instead, it was a pivotal relationship he developed early in his political career that inspired him to take up the cause of independent pharmacy and run with it—all the way to Congress.
When Rep. Collins was involved in local politics years ago, he spent a lot of time visiting small businesses and getting to know his constituents. One of those small businesses was Woody’s Pharmacy in Clermont, Georgia, owned by Kevin Woody. At the time, Woody was being hit hard by PBMs and had just been charged his first DIR fee. He was searching for a way to defend his livelihood and the wellbeing of his patients, but he didn’t know where to turn. That’s when a serendipitous meeting gave him the answer he was looking for.
“I got to know Doug simply because he walked into my drug store one day and I took the opportunity to make myself available to him,” said Woody. “I gave him my cell number. I made sure he knew any time he needed something he could call me, and I took the same liberty. After he left, I grabbed some screenshots of what was happening, sent them to him and said, ‘You need to see this.’”
After looking at what Woody had sent him, Rep. Collins decided to visit Woody’s Pharmacy again to learn more. Woody took him behind the counter this time and showed him firsthand what was going on with his reimbursement.
“He thought it was unfathomable that something like that could happen,” said Woody. “When you tell people what’s going on, at first they just don’t believe it. So, I told him I knew a lot of other pharmacists who would love to meet with him to talk about this issue, because it was happening to all of us.”
Woody then organized a lunch and invited a dozen other pharmacists to join him and Rep. Collins, knowing that it would be much more impactful to get everyone together in one room at the same time.
“We met in a restaurant, got several tables and we just stuck him right in the middle,” said Woody. “For an hour and half, we just kept talking. And that’s when Doug understood that this is real. He’s not just hearing this from one source. This is really happening.”
Rep. Collins, like many elected officials, got into politics to prevent injustice, so he was intrinsically compelled to help Woody and his peers in any way he could. And Woody made it as easy as possible for him to do so. Any time the PBMs would change tactics, he would text or call Rep. Collins to keep him up to date on what he was experiencing in his pharmacy. Not only was this a natural way to develop their relationship, but it was critical for the congressman to get talking points on a regular basis so he could keep the issue top of mind on the Hill.
Over time, the consistent communication made it clear that the problems independent pharmacies were facing deserved even more attention, so Rep. Collins hired a full-time staffer with a pharmacy background to focus solely on managing these issues. This person, along with other staff members from the congressman’s office, now visit Woody’s Pharmacy frequently for status updates. And Woody’s relationships with these individuals have become vital to keeping the lines of communication open as Rep. Collins has advanced in his political career.
“A lot of times when you call a politician’s office, you’re not going to get that politician on the phone,” said Woody. “But if you can get someone on their staff to bend their ear, that can be even more effective than if you got through to the politician directly. For example, the latest activity happening in Doug’s office didn’t come from me talking to Doug. It came from me talking to his pharmacy staffer two or three times a week about a particular issue. That just goes to show you that having a relationship with someone in the office—whether it’s the politician or their staffer—can make all the difference.”
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Pictured above from left to right: Kevin Woody (Woody’s Pharmacy) and Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA)