This could be the year.
Movement again is occurring in Congress on legislation that would confer professional provider status on pharmacists serving millions of older Americans in many parts of the country. Undimmed by a change in presidential administrations, the ascendancy of Republican lawmakers in both houses of Congress and the ongoing polarization and bitter divide of Washington politics, support for passage of a provider status bill remains strong on both sides of the aisle, following its reintroduction early this year.
The proposed Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act is known in the Senate as S. 109 and in the House as H.R. 592. Its purpose: to provide Medicare Part B beneficiaries in medically underserved communities access to pharmacist-provided care. The bill is an attempt to expand access to care, particularly in rural communities hit hardest by the worsening shortage of primary care physicians in the United States.
If passed, the bill would in essence put pharmacists on an equal footing with other caregivers, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, in the delivery of some front-line health services. It would be a major stride forward in professional recognition and establishment of a broadly accepted reimbursement standard for pharmacist-provided care services, opening the way for pharmacists to administer immunizations, chronic disease management, wellness and disease prevention screening and medication therapy management to Medicare patients in underserved areas, in states in which pharmacists are permitted to perform those functions.
Bipartisan Congressional support for the Pharmacy Enhancement Act was strong in 2016, with half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives signing on as cosponsors. Lawmakers wasted little time restarting the clock on legislation at the opening of the new, 115th Congress early this year. At the behest of lead Senate sponsors Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and Bob Casey, D-Pa., S. 109 was reintroduced Jan. 12, with the bipartisan original cosponsorship of more than one-quarter of the Senate. The House quickly followed suit, with lead sponsors Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.; G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.; Tom Reed, R-N.Y.; and Ron Kind, D-Wis., reintroducing the bill Jan. 20 as H. 592. They were joined by more than one-quarter of the House members in a bipartisan show of support.
In the House, the bill was referred Feb. 1 to the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, where it awaits action as of press time. In the Senate, the bill was “read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance,” where it is scheduled for consideration, according to Congress.
Pharmacy leaders were quick to praise the bill’s speedy reappearance. Among them: Steve Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
“NACDS thanks all [lawmakers] who have made a powerful statement about this legislation by signing on as original cosponsors and sustaining this bill’s momentum from the 114th Congress into the current 115th Congress,” said Anderson. “We consider this bill’s swift and strong reintroduction a credit to these leaders in Congress, a credit to pro-patient and pro-pharmacy advocates, and a credit to the powerful story of pharmacies as the face of neighborhood health care. We want … reintroduction to serve as an acceleration, and not just a continuation, of the campaign to enhance the quality, accessibility and affordability of patient care through pharmacist-provided services.”
Passage of provider status legislation is now the American Pharmacists Association’s “top priority,” added American Pharmacists Association EVP and CEO Tom Menighan.
The Trump Administration also appears to support pharmacist provider status. Newly installed secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price told the Senate Finance Committee he “would be open to all options to address the impact of the ongoing physician shortage in rural areas.”