Legislation Urging Pharmacists to Provide Elderly Care Introduced in Senate

JANUARY 17, 2017
Laurie Toich, Assistant Editor
Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) last week reintroduced legislation that urges pharmacists to provide care for elderly patients in communities where being seen by a physician may be difficult.

This popular bipartisan legislation aims to improve patient outcomes in rural areas where physicians are scarce. “A lot of people in rural Iowa have easier access to a pharmacist than a doctor,” Sen Grassley said in a press release.  “Where that pharmacist is licensed to provide a service, Medicare ought to pay the pharmacist for it.  That’s what this bill does.  It’s good for pharmacists because they get paid for providing services to rural seniors.  It’s good for rural seniors because they keep access to their local pharmacist and don’t have to go to the doctor for straightforward medication management.”

The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, S. 109 encourages pharmacists to provide health and wellness screenings, immunizations, and diabetes management services to elderly Americans. The bill would authorize Medicare payments to pharmacists who are licensed to provide specific services.

A majority of states allow pharmacists to provide these services to patients, however, pharmacists do not currently receive Medicare reimbursement.

“Across the country and in Pennsylvania pharmacists play a critical role in helping seniors receive access to routine healthcare services like wellness checks,” Sen Casey said in the press release. “This legislation will aid those in rural communities who may not live in close proximity to the doctor but do have regular contact with their pharmacist. I’m hopeful that Congress will move forward on this commonsense legislation in the coming year.” 

Granting provider status will not only reinforce the growing importance of pharmacists, but will improve the lives of elderly Americans living in rural areas, according to the release.

The original bill (S. 314) was introduced in the 114th Congress in January 2015, and was cosponsored by 51 Senators, according to Congress.gov. The identical bill, S. 109, was re-introduced to the Senate on January 12, 2017, and has gained 26 cosponsors thus far.

“Seniors in rural Ohio shouldn’t have to travel long distances to see their doctor for a simple health screening when the pharmacist down the street can offer the same services,” Sen Brown said in the release. “We can better serve our seniors and taxpayers by cutting through the red tape and giving seniors more choice on where they go for care." If the legislation passes, it will make state-licensed pharmacists in medically underserved communities eligible for reimbursement under Medicare, which will grant pharmacists greater federal recognition as members of the healthcare team. 

The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) has also shown support for the bill, and believes that this legislation would allow community pharmacists to further participate in improving the health of these patients. "Many states allow pharmacists to provide services such as health and wellness screenings, immunizations, and chronic disease state management. This legislation would expand access for seniors to these basic services at their pharmacy and free physicians in these underserved communities to focus their attention on other health needs," said NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey in a press release. "Many independent pharmacies serve traditionally underserved rural and urban communities and are particularly well positioned to administer to the basic health care needs of these populations. This is common-sense bipartisan legislation that improves access to care and should be swiftly enacted." 

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