Paving the Way: Pharmacists as Health Care Providers

Directions in Pharmacy, December 2014, Volume 1, Issue 6

Proposed provider status legislation seeks to expand the role of pharmacists in underserved communities.

Proposed provider status legislation seeks to expand the role of pharmacists in underserved communities.

In the wake of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, it is predicted that there will be about 25 million newly insured patients over the next decade, creating an increased need for health care services. In the current climate, it is becoming increasingly challenging to ensure access to affordable, quality patient care—especially for the medically underserved. The projection of a national physician shortage at a time when health insurance coverage is expanding could further complicate health care access.

Enter Pharmacists

We know that pharmacists are playing an important role in the delivery of health care services, and now commonly provide immunizations and medication therapy management services. Their knowledge and expertise are vital in educating patients and helping them to prevent and manage chronic diseases, and in providing basic medical testing services. In addition, pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals in many underserved areas.

We believe it makes sense to allow pharmacists to work to their full capabilities. Today’s pharmacists are highly educated and trained health care professionals who now must earn a doctor of pharmacy degree, which takes a minimum of 6 years to complete.

Proposed bipartisan legislation in the US House of Representatives—HR 4190—would designate pharmacists as health care providers under the Medicare program. It would allow pharmacists under Medicare Part B to provide medically underserved communities with services that pharmacists are currently permitted to administer according to state law, increasing accessibility to affordable health care services for beneficiaries in these communities. This would not only begin to improve the health of people in medically underserved communities, it would help reduce the health care costs that burden our communities, businesses, and government by better managing chronic health issues that, if not cared for and managed closely, can lead to repeated hospital admissions or catastrophic situations.

With 116 cosponsors at present, the bill continues to garner support on both sides of the aisle.

A July Internet survey of likely voters who are informed and engaged when it comes to current events found that 79% of respondents favor the legislation, including 36 percent who strongly favor it (see Figure). The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and commissioned by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), also found tremendous bipartisan support for the bill, with 85% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans supporting it. Currently, there are 62 Democrats and 54 Republicans cosponsoring the bill in the US House of Representatives.

Figure: Results of Survey of Likely Voters on Pharmacist Provider Status

The recognition of pharmacists as providers is gaining ground, and the education of lawmakers on the subject is of paramount importance.

NACDS utilizes its grassroots advocacy program, NACDS Rx-IMPACT, to train pharmacy advocates to help educate lawmakers on pro-patient, propharmacy issues. The NACDS RxIMPACT Pharmacy Tours program offers lawmakers an important opportunity to see firsthand what pharmacists are doing for patients and the services that are provided in pharmacies. So far in 2014, 97 pharmacy tours have been conducted, and the feedback from lawmakers has been very positive.

During his pharmacy tour in New York, US Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) commented, “The pharmacies are a big part of the health care equation and the wellness equation,” citing pharmacy as being at the forefront of providing local, accessible health care.

Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO), a cosponsor of HR 4190, toured a Savon Pharmacy in Aurora, CO where he discussed the bill with the pharmacy team and took the opportunity to get a flu shot.

Looking ahead to 2015, NACDS will continue to engage lawmakers on this legislation as it gears up for NACDS RxIMPACT Day on Capitol Hill, which will be held March 11 to 12, 2015, in Washington, DC. Hundreds of meetings with pharmacy advocates and members of Congress will take place, with continued emphasis on pharmacists as health care providers as a main focus of the 2-day event.

The transformation of the US health care system is paving the way for pharmacists to work to their abilities like never before. Working with our members and pharmacy advocates, NACDS will continue to build on the support for this provider status legislation.

Carol Kelly, MA, is the senior vice president of government affairs and public policy for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). She previously served as senior executive advisor, external affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, and as executive vice president, federal legislative policy and health care system reform at AdvaMed. Carol earned her MA in public administration from the University of Virginia.