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APhA, ASHP back bill expanding Medicare patients’ access to pharmacist services

The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Area Enhancement Act would give Medicare patients in medically underserved communities access to critically needed primary health care services delivered by pharmacists. 
Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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The American Pharmacists Association and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists praised the introduction of legislation that would give tens of millions of Medicare patients in medically underserved communities access to critically needed primary health care services delivered by pharmacists. 

The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Area Enhancement Act was introduced on Thursday by Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and Rep. David McKinley, R-W. Va. The bill would enable pharmacists to deliver Medicare Part B services that are already authorized by their respective state laws. These services may include: medication management; banagement of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, and related medications; cholesterol testing; point of care testing (e.g., COVID-19, influenza, strep); immunization screening and administration not currently covered by Medicare Part B and D; tobacco cessation services; and transition of care services.

The legislation does not expand scope of practice, but brings Medicare rules in alignment with existing authorities already granted to pharmacists by many states and health care organizations through credentialing and privileging programs. 

Pharmacists have advanced education and training to deliver these services, but unlike many states in the nation, Medicare does not recognize and reimburse them for such services. Pharmacists earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree that includes six years to eight years of higher education to complete.  Many pharmacists also complete one to two years of post-graduate residency training and become certified in a specialty by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties.

A strong body of evidence has shown that including pharmacists on interprofessional patient care teams with physicians, nurses, and other health care providers produces better health outcomes and cost savings. Pharmacists are one of the most accessible health care providers in the nation, with nearly 90% of Americans living within five miles of one of the nation’s 88,000 pharmacies.

“In rural and underserved areas like those that I represent, access to a primary care doctor can be challenging and pharmacists often step in and serve as accessible access points for care.” said Rep. Butterfield. “Pharmacists can provide wellness testing, help manage chronic disease, and administer immunizations. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how accessible pharmacists are and how they can be leveraged to improve the health of communities. Pharmacists in eastern North Carolina are helping people to live longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. But providing those services doesn’t come without a cost. I am proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan measure that will ensure our pharmacists are appropriately reimbursed and can continue to provide care to those in need.”

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further illustrated how difficult it is for some patients living in medically underserved communities to access care and achieve optimal medication therapy outcomes,” said ASHP CEO Paul Abramowitz. “This legislation recognizes that pharmacists can play an integral role in addressing these longstanding disparities and helps ensure that our most vulnerable patients can access the care they need.”

Scott Knoer, APhA executive vice president and CEO said, “In many states across the country, pharmacists are already critical members of the health care team, and are compensated appropriately for that work. It’s time for Medicare to get with the program and recognize what many states have already learned – pharmacists provide great care.”