Pharmaceuticals can be a significant out-of-pocket expense for some elderly persons who do not have drug coverage. To address this problem, the Medicare Modernization Act was passed in 2003. Some elements of the pharmacy community were concerned that it might not be good for their business, while others supported its passage. With the implementation in January 2006, will community pharmacy benefit? Some recent events suggest that possibility.
The Pink Sheet (March 21, 2005) reports "Ovations/Walgreens Deal Reflects Value of Retail in Medicare Part D." The story states that "the choice seems to imply that health plans will place a higher value on retail presence than mail order in the Part D market." Walgreens Health Initiatives will administer the program. This decision would seem to suggest that Medicare Part D will benefit community pharmacy.
Another opportunity for community pharmacists was recently suggested by the New York Times story (March 29, 2005) about "Medicare Applications Sent to Low-Income Americans." The Social Security Administration plans to send up to 20 million applications to low-income people who might qualify for financial assistance. Advocates for low-income individuals think that the form is so complex that most people will not respond or will be confused. Because community pharmacists are so accessible, the recipient or family members may approach them for help in answering questions concerning the application. This expectation further suggests that community pharmacists are important to the Medicare Part D program.
Finally, another indication that community pharmacy will have an opportunity to fill more prescriptions is the announcement by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America that it will implement the Partnership for Prescription Assistance clearinghouse on a nationwide basis. The national call center (888-4PPA-NOW) will help uninsured individuals gain access to 275 different support programs.
Together, these recent events suggest that community pharmacy is coming back as a key component in ensuring successful drug therapy outcomes. We will be prepared to assume an even more important role in 2006.