PHARMACISTS PROTEST NEW MEDICARE DME RULES

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Proposed new federal restrictions on the right of pharmacists to supply Medicare patients with wheelchairs, walkers, and other types of durable medical equipment (DME) could create hardships for millions of American seniors, warned officials of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA).

At issue is the so-called Competitive Acquisition Program developed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. It seeks to impose new standards for pharmacists who supply Medicare beneficiaries with DME, as well as prosthetics, orthotics, therapeutic shoes, diabetes supplies, nebulizers, immunizations, and Medicare Part B medications.

Under the proposal, pharmacists would be required to obtain additional accreditation and submit to a competitive bidding process in order to continue to sell these supplies to Medicare beneficiaries beginning in 2007. According to NCPA, this new requirement creates huge administrative burdens for pharmacists that could affect the availability of DME for millions of American seniors.

"Pharmacists already are highly educated, licensed by the state, and uniquely qualified to serve as the medication and medical device expert for their patients," said NCPA Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Roberts, RPh. "To require an additional level of accreditation to sell [DME] such as diabetes testing strips is unnecessarily burdensome and unfairly stacks the deck against family pharmacies."

The association estimates that the initial accreditation will take 70 hours to complete at an estimated cost of $7000 to $17,000 per pharmacist. As a result, an NCPA member survey found that only about 3 in 10 pharmacists plan to seek the accreditation necessary to continue to supply DME under Medicare.