Arlington, Va. – Bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate today would formally designate pharmacists as healthcare providers under Medicare Part B. Supported by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), the bill would amend The Social Security Act of 1935 to enable pharmacists to provide to Medicare patients in underserved communities services that pharmacists already are providing for other patients under state law.
The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (S. 314) – introduced by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Casey (D-PA) – would elevate pharmacists’ ability to improve patient health. Specifically, Medicare patients would gain enhanced access to pharmacists’ expertise and pharmacy services, including immunizations, diabetes screenings and self-management education, cardiovascular screenings and behavioral therapy, in states in which pharmacists are allowed to provide these services.
“Through the introduction of this legislation, Senators Grassley, Brown, Kirk and Casey have demonstrated tremendous commitment to improved healthcare access and outcomes for underserved Medicare patients,” said NACDS President and CEO Steven C. Anderson, IOM, CAE. “It makes good sense for pharmacists to be able to leverage their professional education for the benefit of patients in need, and to provide services that are within their scope of practice in each state.”
The legislation focuses on medically underserved communities, as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Categories of underserved communities include elderly and rural populations, residents of public housing, areas with a shortage of primary care providers and with high poverty rates, and persons with HIV/AIDS, among others.
“For many patients, the lack of healthcare access remains a serious problem, and we appreciate the growing realization of the opportunity to look to pharmacists as valuable members of the healthcare delivery team, in partnership with doctors, nurses and others,” Anderson said.
Pharmacists are highly educated and trained healthcare professionals who now must earn a doctor of pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.) to graduate – which takes a minimum of six years to complete and reflects the evolution of pharmacy practice to a more patient-centered focus.
Pharmacists remain committed to the vital function of providing medications safely, and helping patients understand how to take them correctly. Beyond this commitment, examples of pharmacist-provided services that would be available to Medicare patients – on a state-by-state basis according to their unique laws – include vaccination screening and delivery, chronic disease management, and preventive screenings such as testing of glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
The Senate bill is a companion to the House bill introduced this week, H.R 592. Identical legislation introduced in the House last year, in the 113th Congress, garnered strong bipartisan support with 123 cosponsors, and was also supported by NACDS.
“The support for the House bill in the last Congress and the swift introduction of bills in the House and Senate early in this new Congress demonstrate the momentum behind this important issue,” said Anderson.
Public support for the legislation also is proving strong across political party leanings. A July Internet survey of likely voters who are informed and engaged when it comes to current events found that 79 percent of respondents favor the legislation — including 36 percent who strongly favor it. The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and commissioned by NACDS, found that 85 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans support it.
As a member of the Patient Access to Pharmacists’ Care Coalition (PAPCC), which seeks to ensure all licensed pharmacists are able to care for Medicare patients to the full extent of state scope of practice laws, NACDS joined other pharmacy organizations and stakeholders in releasing a statement of support for the Senate bill. To view the statement and for more information on the issue, please visit PharmacistsCare.org.