Senate reintroduces pharmacy legislation with original co-sponsors
WASHINGTON – Pharmacist provider status legislation is back before Congress, with the bipartisan co-sponsorship of more than a quarter of the Senate.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), Bob Casey (D., Penn.) and Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) on Thursday reintroduced the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (S. 109) with its 27 original co-sponsors. A companion bill is planned in the House of Representatives.
The legislation would allow Medicare patients in underserved areas to receive certain health services from pharmacists, in states in that permit pharmacists to provide such care. Those services include immunizations; management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions and asthma; wellness or prevention testing; and medication adherence and therapy management.
Currently, nurse practitioners and physician assistants can provide such services through Medicare. Most states already allow pharmacists to provide these services, but there’s no way for pharmacists to receive Medicare reimbursement for them.
“A lot of people in rural Iowa have easier access to a pharmacist than a doctor. Where that pharmacist is licensed to provide a service, Medicare ought to pay the pharmacist for it. That’s what this bill does,” Grassley said in a statement. “It’s good for pharmacists because they get paid for providing services to rural seniors. It’s good for rural seniors because they keep access to their local pharmacist and don’t have to go to the doctor for straightforward medication management.”
The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act enters the 115th Congress with a strong base of support. Known as H.R. 592/S. 314 in the previous Congress, the legislation was co-sponsored by about half the Senate and two-thirds of the House.
Pharmacy industry groups — including the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and American Pharmacists Association (APhA) — have made the legislation a priority of their plank in Washington, since it would expand the health care role of pharmacists.
“NACDS truly appreciates the leadership of Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Bob Casey in reintroducing the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act as lead sponsors. NACDS thanks all of the 27 senators who have made a powerful statement about this legislation by signing on as original co-sponsors and sustaining this bill’s momentum from the 114th Congress into the current 115th Congress,” NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson stated.
“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,” Anderson added. “We want today’s bill 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.”
NCPA noted that the bill recognizes pharmacists as health providers and enables state-licensed pharmacists in medically underserved communities to provide and be reimbursed for an expanded scope of patient care services under Medicare Part B.
“Pharmacists are highly trained professionals and the most accessible health care providers for patients. This legislation improves access to the full array of health care services pharmacists are able to provide under their state’s laws,” commented NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey.
“Many states allow pharmacists to provide services such as health and wellness screenings, immunizations and chronic disease state management. This legislation would expand access for seniors to these basic services at their pharmacy and free physicians in these underserved communities to focus their attention on other health needs,” Hoey explained. “Many independent pharmacies serve traditionally underserved rural and urban communities and are particularly well-positioned to administer to the basic health care needs of these populations. This is commonsense bipartisan legislation that improves access to care and should be swiftly enacted.”
APhA said that although most lawmakers supporting the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act have returned in the 115th Congress, 63 new members in the House and Senate need to be educated about the scope of health services pharmacists provide beyond dispensing prescriptions. The last session of Congress had 296 co-sponsors of H.R. 592 in the House and 51 co-sponsors of the Senate companion bill S.314.
“The American Pharmacists Association is pleased to see the reintroduction of legislation in the Senate that will increase patient access to health care by taking advantage of pharmacists — an important but often underutilized member of the patient’s health care team,” stated Thomas Menighan, executive vice president and CEO at APhA. “APhA looks forward to the reintroduction of companion legislation in the House in the coming weeks.”
Sens. Brown and Casey stressed the broader access to health care that the legislation would provide to seniors.
“Seniors in rural Ohio shouldn’t have to travel long distances to see their doctor for a simple health screening when the pharmacist down the street can offer the same services,” according to Brown. “We can better serve our seniors and taxpayers by cutting through the red tape and giving seniors more choice on where they go for care.”
Casey noted that pharmacists in his state and nationwide already are providing seniors with wellness checks and other routine health services. “This legislation will aid those in rural communities who may not live in close proximity to the doctor but do have regular contact with their pharmacist,” he stated. “I’m hopeful that Congress will move forward on this commonsense legislation in the coming year.”