By Michael Spira
On January 28, 2015, H.R. 592, the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R–KY), G.K. Butterfield (D–NC), and Todd Young (R–IN). Just as exciting, a day later on January 29, S. 314, legislation with the same name as H.R. 592, was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Robert Casey (D-PA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). While we had legislation that mirrored the language in H.R. 592/S. 314 last year in the House, this is the first year we have had a companion bill in the Senate.
If passed, this legislation would enable patients in medically-underserved communities to have access to Medicare Part B coverage for pharmacist-provided patient care services. APhA’s message regarding pharmacists’ ability to increase patient access to care is resonating, and thanks to advocates like you who have been meeting and reaching out to their members of Congress, the House bill has 242 co-sponsors and the Senate bill has 36 co-sponsors.
What makes this impressive is that the bill is extremely bipartisan. There are 134 Republican co-sponsors and 108 Democratic co-sponsors in the House, while in the Senate, there are 16 Republican co-sponsors and 20
This says a lot about the legislation and the issue when you take into account the political climate and partisan gridlock that has taken over Congress, especially in the area of health care.
APhA has been working with stakeholders from other pharmacy organizations, patient advocacy groups, and health care provider organizations to form the Patient Access to Pharmacists Care Coalition (PAPCC) to get to this point. Although the coalition has almost 40 organizations, we are still in the process of growing the coalition, especially with regard to patient advocacy groups who can help in providing examples of how pharmacists are improving the health of patients.
In early 2013, APhA began its provider status activities, and in March of 2014, APhA launched its Pharmacists Provide Care campaign—an initiative focused on the promotion and coverage of pharmacists’ patient care services. As part of this campaign, APhA developed www.pharmacistsprovidecare.com, which contains resources including state-specific materials and toolkits containing packaged information for both pharmacists and student pharmacists to use when talking with policymakers, health care colleagues, and patients about the value pharmacists can bring to the health care system.
But, the campaign does not end there. I ask, if you haven’t already, go to the website to sign up as a supporter of the campaign. As a supporter, you will receive periodic e-mail updates about the campaign and our work on Capitol Hill. Furthermore, I ask you to “Take Action” and join the more than 20,000 supporters who have collectively sent more than 30,000 letters to Congress urging them to co-sponsor the legislation.
Share your story
Outreach to members of Congress works. But we still have a lot of work to do. And now it’s time to share your story and make certain that everyone is aware of the value you and your profession provides. Pharmacists go to school to learn how to do a lot more things than dispense medications. Pharmacists are one of the most accessible and underused members of the health care team. If you have already sent letters to or met with your member(s) of Congress, you can still provide assistance by encouraging your colleagues, mentors, and patients to do the same. In addition, invite them to your chapter events so they learn first-hand about the care and services you can provide your patients, their constituents.
There are still steps that need to occur before federal provider status legislation makes it to President Obama’s desk, and your involvement will go a long way in getting it across the finish line. I ask you to maintain that energy and enthusiasm. And, as always, APhA is here to assist and be a resource. Together, let’s continue making a difference!
Also, be sure to read the article about the Fellow who recently worked with Rep. Buddy Carter (R–GA), our pharmacist-
champion in the House, on page 9.