ARLINGTON, Va. — Recently announced federal action provides states a “reasonable timeline” to prevent disruption of the pharmacy access relied upon and expected by patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, according to an article published today in Health Security, a Johns Hopkins University peer-reviewed journal. The commentary was prepared by Lisa Koonin, DrPH, MN, MPH, of Health Preparedness Partners – who previously served the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more than 30 years – and by NACDS co-authors.
The timely article, “Building on Success Serving the Nation: Codifying Key Pharmacy Flexibilities Beyond COVID-19,” follows on the heels of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ April 14 announcement of plans to extend vital aspects of the federal PREP Act (Public Readiness and Emergency Response Act) declaration through December 2024 — a move urged by NACDS for more than a year.
“The successes of pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic have affirmed their important role in emergency response, as well as in providing daily, equitable access to care. The authorities granted under the COVID-19 PREP Act declaration have been pivotal because they have allowed pharmacy staff to provide access to lifesaving pandemic countermeasures. It is important to retain this capability to respond to the ongoing circulation of the virus that causes COVID-19 and to ensure readiness for the next infectious disease outbreak, while also maintaining pharmacies as access points for vaccines, testing, and treatment for other routine and emerging health threats,” the article states.
“Because many of these authorities will be retained through December 2024, governors and their teams, in addition to state legislators, regulators, and boards of pharmacy, will have a reasonable timeline to take action. Beyond public health emergencies, continuing these policies will support better healthcare access for all, including underserved populations, and advance improved health for the nation.”
In announcing the article, NACDS President and CEO Steven C. Anderson said, “This article is first-out-of-the-gate after the Biden Administration announced its intent to extend PREP Act pharmacy access through December 2024. It serves as an authoritative record of the success of pharmacies, pharmacists, and pharmacy teams in helping our nation overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, and it establishes an historic record of the federal and state policies that were engineered – with the advice of NACDS – to make these successes possible. It also serves as a call to action for the states to improve and sustain emergency preparedness and to help meet the daily health and wellness needs of all Americans. When society emerges from a situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to document the lessons learned and we need to act on them. Americans across political parties and ideologies expect that leadership.”
The article compiles from an array of sources the pharmacy success stories on behalf of the American people. Among them, as of April 27, 2023, Federal Retail Pharmacy Program pharmacies had provided more than 302.2 million COVID-19 vaccinations. More than 43% of individuals vaccinated at pharmacies are from racial and ethnic minority groups, and half of the pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination sites are in areas of high social vulnerability.
Koonin and the NACDS co-authors analyze the story behind these successes: “Pharmacies were able to achieve these successes because of three key factors: years of experience safely and efficiently providing care to the public, including vaccinations; pharmacy authorities granted by the PREP Act, its amendments, HHS guidance, and advisories; and adequate coverage and reimbursement for pharmacy-based services that were provided during the pandemic.”
Looking forward, they state: “Codifying these temporary federal authorities, which have proven safe and effective, into permanent state laws and regulations will enhance the nation’s ability to respond to existing and emerging threats by securing a permanent, trained workforce that can immediately begin providing pandemic vaccines, tests, and treatments across the nation when needed.”
In addition to urging states to permanently implement pharmacy authorities granted under the PREP Act, NACDS continues to urge the U.S. Congress to address another missing link: establishing the reliable Medicare payment mechanisms that are part of the necessary infrastructure for pharmacy services. It is critical that Congress pass and enact the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act (H.R. 1770) — bipartisan legislation backed by nearly 200 groups representing patients, seniors, rural Americans, hospitals, health systems, pharmacists, and pharmacies. Such action is necessary to help ensure seniors have access to pharmacy services, as authorized by states’ policies, into the future.
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