Chester (Chip) Davis Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, recently answered questions from Chain Drug Review about drug wholesaling in the aftermath of the pandemic and other industry issues. Following is an edited transcript of that Q&A.
CDR: What are the key takeaways from distributors’ resilience during the pandemic, and how do you see lessons learned applying to the industry’s evolution as COVID moves into an endemic phase?
DAVIS: More than two years into living and working in a pandemic, the nation’s health care supply chain, anchored by the logistics expertise and innovation of distributors, has proven resilient and reliable. Specifically, COVID-19 has reinforced how the private sector is a crucial partner to government at all levels. Throughout the pandemic response, pharmaceutical distributors and their supply chain partners deployed experience from past emergencies, strong relationships and infrastructure to support the national response.
Our industry has learned that responding to supply challenges requires continuous adaptation and coordination across the supply chain. Moving forward, we will continue to need strong coordination between the supply chain and government stakeholders. As we shift to managing the virus, much like we would the annual flu season, the industry is also planning for when COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics might shift into commercial channels, which will be a highly complex transition. While it still is unclear when that shift will happen we are ready to apply our logistics expertise to ensure the vaccines and therapeutics are safely and efficiently distributed when it does. Whatever is needed, distributors will be ready to answer the call.
CDR: Can you address the creation of successful public health partnerships amid COVID and how they can be sustained beyond the short term?
DAVIS: HDA distributors have worked closely with federal and state governments on COVID-19 response efforts since the outset of the pandemic.
The industry played a key role working with officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Health and Human Services and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as state and local governments on a number of issues identified throughout the pandemic.
Public health and government partners regularly turn to distributors for their leadership and expertise during national health emergencies to safely, efficiently and reliably deliver vaccines across the country. Throughout the nationwide vaccination campaign, the federal government and states leveraged these relationships and tapped into the existing expertise of HDA members to make sure vaccines get where they need to go and pharmacy and provider partners are able to put shots in arms.
Further, our industry has long served as partners to the federal government in the warehousing and delivery of essential medicines and medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). HDA distributor members are working directly with the SNS to store, manage and distribute medicines, and the industry is helping to restructure and resupply the stockpile so that there are enough medicines and personal protective equipment in the event of future public health crises.
While many of these partnerships were developed in response to immediate pandemic needs, the federal government
should continue to use the capabilities of the nation’s existing pharmaceutical distribution infrastructure to expedite and streamline efforts in the ongoing COVID-19 response. The pandemic exposed health care supply chain-related vulnerabilities that will require further coordination, cooperation and collaboration between the government and private sector — not just today, but well into the future.
CDR: How are distributors supporting the pharmacy community?
DAVIS: Distributors serve as critical partners to pharmacists in their role as counselors, educators and advocates to patients. Our industry provides the logistics expertise as well as administrative services and support that allow pharmacists and providers to focus on their patients.
With the support of distributors, pharmacies navigate change, optimize business performance, implement the latest technology and learn about new industry trends. More than 21,000 independent pharmacists are supported by distributors’ core and value- added services.
Most independent community pharmacies in the U.S. also voluntarily outsource administrative services to a Pharmacy Services Administrative Organization, which provide these small business owners and health care providers support to allow them to spend more time at the pharmacy counter and, ultimately, on patient care.
CDR: Regarding health care costs, can you detail the industry’s latest initiatives on behalf of medication affordability?
DAVIS: HDA’s distributor members provide approximately up to $53 billion in cost savings to the U.S. health care economy each year by offering core and value-added services. Health care distributors work directly with biopharmaceutical companies and pharmacies to develop co-pay assistance and clinical care programs that provide direct medication adherence support for patients so they can focus on improving their health.
HDA and our members support affordability solutions that will reduce costs while building on the efficiency and reliability the American pharmaceutical supply chain currently delivers. HDA supports improving access to and the affordability of innovative new therapies as well as lower-cost, high-quality generic and biosimilar medicines for patients through a variety of ways, including:
- Promoting accelerated approvals for life-saving medications.
- Increasing patient access to biosimilars.
- Supporting policies that reduce out-of-pocket costs and lower maximum caps for patients, particularly older Americans.
- Supporting giving pharmacists provider status to help increase access to health care and lower costs.
CDR: Traceability is a key issue for the industry and the whole health care system. Can you provide an update on the DSCSA deadline and compliance efforts?
DAVIS: Pharmaceutical distributors are leading the effort to implement the 2013 Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA). Throughout the implementation process, HDA has served as a convener of stakeholders, a collaborator with our industry partners and the FDA, and a valuable information resource for the entire supply chain to ensure compliance with the law.
The HDA Research Foundation’s latest EPCIS Implementation Benchmarking Survey indicates that healthcare supply chain partners remain in the formative stages of establishing the interoperable transaction data connections required to comply with the DSCSA by November 27, 2023. However, some progress has been made since a previous survey conducted last spring.
Now, more than ever, as we move closer to the November 2023 deadline, it will be critical for all parties, from industry to government, to firmly align on the outstanding requirements.
CDR: What’s the latest with the Health Delivered campaign, including Faces of the Supply Chain?
DAVIS: Through the Health Delivered campaign, HDA continues to reinforce the incredible and vital role of pharmaceutical distributors within the larger health care ecosystem. The latest component of our campaign, Faces of the Supply Chain, launched in March, showcases the committed, innovative and hard-working distribution sector professionals who ensure that medicines, vaccines, health care products and other medical supplies are available when providers and their patients need them.
The series features HDA member company employees speaking about the work they do every day to deliver more than 10 million life-saving treatments and cures to support health care providers and their patients across the country. By amplifying our member voices, HDA is bringing to life the people behind the scenes who make the health care supply chain work.