Federal bill granting pharmacists provider status remains top priority

As national campaigning for the 2016 presidential election hits full throttle and partisan battles continue over Obamacare, pharmacists remain steadfast in support of a bipartisan bill that could dramatically change their segment of America’s healthcare industry at the federal level. 

Specifically, the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, H.R. 592/S. 314, would give state-licensed pharmacists in underserved communities provider status, enabling them to provide certain services to Medicare patients. The bill would amend Medicare Part B rules to allow pharmacists to receive payment for their care services, thereby increasing patients’ access to essential services, including health and wellness screenings and chronic disease management.

The proposed bill is considered this year's – and likely next year’s -- major federal policy issue for pharmacists, Christopher Topoleski, director of federal regulatory affairs for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, told American Pharmacy News. 

“Many who are frail, such as the elderly and people with chronic conditions, experience a lack of primary care in medically underserved areas,” Topoleski said. “This legislation would finally recognize pharmacists under Medicare Part B as being the most-commonly accessed healthcare point in a community and allow them to provide the one-on-one services they’re skilled at providing. 

“There really is a lot of contact between beneficiary patients and pharmacists and this legislation would really acknowledge their expertise,” he said. 

At the same time, as Obamacare adds thousands of newly insured people to each state’s health system, the proposed provider status bill would include pharmacists on healthcare teams, particularly those in rural and underserved areas that are in short supply of primary care providers. And because the bill focuses on allowing pharmacists to practice for Medicare beneficiaries in specific areas, they aren’t competing with primary care providers, Topoleski said. 

Not surprisingly, both H.R. 592 and S. 314 have bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, a fact reflective of and aligned with what’s happening at the state level. 

Washington State, for instance, in May became the first in the U.S. to require that pharmacists be included in health insurance provider networks. Along with nurse practitioners and physician assistants, pharmacists now will be compensated for the patient care they provide within their scope of practice. 

Other states are following suit, like Oregon, where Gov. Kate Brown in June signed into law HB 2028, which establishes provider status for the state’s pharmacists. The law clarifies that pharmacists may be paid for clinical services and it expands existing laws related to collaborative drug therapy management, among other provisions. 

Going even further, Gov. Brown earlier this month signed another measure into law that allows pharmacists to provide birth control pills to a woman who has completed a 20-question risk-screening assessment. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, also garnered bipartisan support in the legislature. 

Nevertheless, Topoleski said that all 50 states have different acts that govern the pharmacy segment. In addition to Oregon and Washington, he said, states like New Mexico and California “have really strong laws allowing pharmacists to really be able to do a lot in their states, allowing them more flexibility.” 

And once provider status is achieved at the federal level, he said, the law will encourage and advance such state-level activities, not change them.

“Congress is more aware now than they were several years ago … about what services pharmacists provide and how they can move healthcare in this country forward,” Topoleski said. 

H.R. 592 – which has 86 Republican and 71 Democratic cosponsors – has been referred to both the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee and the House Ways and Means Committee. S. 314 – which has eight Republican and 13 Democratic cosponsors – has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

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American Society of Health-System Pharmacists 7272 Wisconsin Ave Bethesda, MD 20814