Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) reintroduced legislation (S.1362) that would allow pharmacists in areas with health-professional shortages to receive coverage and payment from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for Medicare Part B services already authorized by their state’s laws. An identical bill, H.R.2759, was introduced in the House by representatives G. K. Butterfield (D-NC-1) and David McKinley (R-WV-1). Both bills have gone to the appropriate committees for review.
“The pandemic has underscored the plight of underserved older Americans, including those living in rural communities,” said Senator Casey. “Rural older adults are at increased risk for many chronic diseases and yet many still face barriers in accessing basic health care services. This important legislation would allow pharmacists to support the health needs of seniors in rural communities by increasing access to routine care, like wellness checks and management of chronic diseases.”
For many Americans, community pharmacists are the only healthcare professional available for miles—and, throughout the pandemic, often the only one patients could see in person. With multiple expansions of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act that marshaled community pharmacists to serve on the front lines of testing and vaccination for COVID-19, recognition of the value pharmacists provide, particularly in areas with few other healthcare providers, seems overdue.
The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act of 2021 recognizes that many states permit pharmacists to provide a wide variety of patient-care services. At the same time, Medicare cannot reimburse pharmacists for providing critical services within their scope of practice to seniors, such as medication management; management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension; point-of-care testing for infections and chronic conditions; immunizations; transition-of-care services; and tobacco-cessation services.
“Pharmacists have been essential in helping ensure patients have convenient access to health services during the pandemic. Recognizing pharmacists as providers under Medicare is a crucial next step in helping to expand the care and service available to patients from their local pharmacist,” said Kate Gainer, CEO of the Iowa Pharmacy Association.
In the long term, the legislation offers a win-win-win: Pharmacies receive a sustainable reimbursement rate that allows them to remain in business, patients retain access to convenient healthcare services, and Medicare potentially saves money by reimbursing for screening and management services that keep patients out of emergency departments.
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