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Executive Q&A: Investing in independent pharmacy

By AmerisourceBergen

A conversation with Peter Kounelis, RPh, Vice President of Elevate Provider Network
We sat down with Peter Kounelis, RPh, Vice President of Elevate Provider Network for AmerisourceBergen, to get insight into how the right PSAO will invest in independent pharmacies to enable their success and advocate to protect their future independence.


Q: What are some of the ways Elevate invests in independent pharmacies?

Peter Kounelis: It begins with the human resources, the associates, and the personnel that staff Elevate. A good indicator of just how much an organization values independent pharmacy is when they staff it with the resources necessary to change the very nature of a PSAO, evolving it from a purely administrative function to that of advocacy and tireless promotion of the true value that independent pharmacies provide.

We have by far the most seasoned group of associates, many of whom (including myself) have come from the PBM industry — the manufacturer side, the healthcare side, or the provider side. Having all of those backgrounds on our staff is invaluable as we weigh the decisions and challenges in front of us. We have a very strong team empowered with robust analytic tools.

While the human capital investment is the most important, there's also the infrastructure AmerisourceBergen provides, from our marketing team and our government affairs team to our legal team. Then we have analytics resources because IT supports us. It goes on and on and on.

In addition, the tools we provide to independent pharmacies are an investment that's subsidized by AmerisourceBergen. It's all done with the same intent as the rest of our mission: to help support and make sure that pharmacies thrive now and in the future.

Q: Why is advocacy for independents so important?

PK: We've got three people dedicated to state government affairs, and 95% of that is working with our independent pharmacy customers to advocate on their behalf in their home states. We also have team members dedicated to federal policy who have been instrumental in crafting federal calls to action regarding vaccine allocation. That's just one example of the work that's being done. We fly in independent pharmacy owners to meet with their legislators in Congress during the NCPA annual fly-in in April. And we're the only PSAO that does that. In fact, we're the only PSAO that combines strategic contracting and passionate advocacy with heavy investments in independent pharmacy's future success.

Q: Switching gears a little, why is it so important that a PSAO is connected but separate from an organization as a wholesaler?

PK: Having AmerisourceBergen as our parent company, so to speak, gives us the resources and infrastructure to invest in independent pharmacies. It's the lifeblood in any business to have sufficient resources to execute your mission.

Now, that being said, everything and anything Elevate does is for the benefit of the independent pharmacy. And often, there's this perception that there is some conflict, some misalignment of priorities. And I can tell you, having been with Elevate for over eight years, that this is not occurring with AmerisourceBergen. It's quite the contrary.

The PBMs and the payers often distort the relationship between PSAOs and wholesalers, as if somehow that connection undermines the mission of the PSAO. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Elevate and AmerisourceBergen. In fact, it's the opposite.

AmerisourceBergen enables us to execute our mission to protect and support independent pharmacies, even when it's not in the best interest of AmerisourceBergen themselves. Ultimately, we've always had the freedom and the authority to represent the best interest of our independent pharmacies, firstly and foremost. That's a very unique position in the industry.

Q: What do we mean when we say, 'what hurts independents hurts Elevate'?

PK: Our futures and our fortunes are inextricably linked, and they should be. Our mission is to advocate for the continued success of independent pharmacies both now and in the future. We've been privileged to represent our pharmacies and their important mission, advocating for the value they deliver when we interact with the payers, the PBMs, legislatures, and regulators. Wherever the audience is, we are ceaselessly promoting the value of independent pharmacies within their communities and to their patients while improving health. And in the case of this protracted pandemic, keeping folks out of the hospital or worse. We are changing the independent pharmacy dialogue to one of value delivered, not lowest cost tolerated.

So we're tirelessly advocating in that regard. The degree we succeed in that mission will determine just how much we've helped the business model that independent pharmacies occupy and how viable we can help them continue to be. And if we don't do a good job, not only will independent pharmacies not evolve and develop, but Elevate will become much less relevant. We're wholly dedicated to fulfilling our core mission of helping independent pharmacies.

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Elevate Provider Network's mission is to protect the viability of the independent pharmacy. Find out how we help ensure a bright future for independent pharmacies.