As the Senate Committee on Finance looked into how the healthcare system was impacted and changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores weighed in, urging lawmakers to keep pharmacists' pandemic-era gains.
NACDS submitted comments in May for the Finance Committee's hearing, “COVID-19 Health Care Flexibilities: Perspectives, Experiences, and Lessons Learned.” In the comments, NACDS commended the committee’s work to build better health by considering flexibilities for pharmacies during the pandemic and detailed pharmacy’s central position in the nation’s COVID-19 response, which NACDS attributed to 10 years of pharmacy preparedness and federal actions taken under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.
“The nation called on pharmacies to deliver COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and other critical preventive care services to communities during the pandemic," NACDS wrote. "Pharmacies seamlessly rose to the challenge, in large part due to more than a decade of pandemic preparedness and collaborative planning. Importantly, the COVID-19 flexibilities granted to pharmacies were instrumental in driving better health and fostering equity across communities.”
NACDS described the lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, demonstrating how pandemic planning efforts across the pharmacy industry and government paved the way for pharmacies’ response to the COVID-19 crisis – including the establishment of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program; the establishment of more than 6,000 live testing sites which processed nearly 10 million samples under a public-private partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services; and the continued access to preventive care services that pharmacies ensured patients maintained throughout the pandemic.
Additionally, NACDS noted the critical actions taken by Congress, HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that accelerated the availability of pharmacy-based COVID-19 testing locations and cleared the pathway for vaccinations at pharmacies throughout the pandemic.
NACDS pointed out that Federal actions taken under the PREP Act leveraged pharmacies to provide enhanced public access to COVID-19 testing, COVID-19 vaccines, and routine and catch-up vaccines for those ages 3 to 18 years old. "Such actions, along with Congress requiring health insurers to cover COVID-19 testing and vaccination costs without out-of-pocket expenses, were monumental,” NACDS said. “Collectively, these actions unleashed pharmacy teams from onerous and unnecessary federal and state barriers that have historically prohibited them from providing such services to populations more broadly. These actions also removed cost barriers for patients.”
The aim now is to make keep the progress made.
“Now, NACDS is urging Congress not to roll back preparedness, and to instead transform the temporary flexibilities granted to pharmacies into permanent pharmacy authority and payment mechanisms that will help sustain Americans’ access to pharmacy care beyond the pandemic,” NACDS said. “NACDS urges Congress to retain and build on the existing flexibilities to implement permanent pharmacy authority and payment mechanisms. Doing so would help Americans continue reaping the benefits of care services at pharmacies they know and trust into the future.”