Advocating for change is a major focus of the APhA Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA–ASP) Midyear Regional Meetings (MRMs), held every fall across the country in eight regions. This year, the change MRM attendees seek is to enact federal provider status legislation for pharmacists through the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (H.R. 592/S. 314), which would enable patient access to, and coverage for, Medicare Part B services by state-licensed pharmacists in medically underserved communities. At press time, H.R. 592 had accumulated 242 cosponsors, and S. 314 had garnered 36 cosponsors.
Three supporters of provider status for pharmacists, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA), spoke at the MRM conferences in Dearborn, MI; Nashville; and Plymouth, MA, respectively. MRMs also were held this year in Richmond, VA; Minneapolis; Kansas City, MO; Portland, OR; and Las Vegas.
“Pharmacists deserve to play a bigger role in our health care system,” Dingell said in a statement to Pharmacy Today. She noted that pharmacists sometimes see patients more frequently than doctors yet are not reimbursed for providing the same services.
“This isn’t right, and can actually serve as a disincentive for a pharmacist to open a business in a medically underserved area,” she added. “Promoting access to care isn’t just the right thing to do—it makes economic sense as well. The quicker we get people the care they need, the more likely they will avoid costly hospitalizations down the road. And that means providing more points of access to our health care system. That is why I am proud to be a cosponsor.”
Tim Frost, a 2017 PharmD candidate and president of the APhA–ASP chapter at the University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, noted that Dingell had spoken about having a lifelong friend who is a pharmacist.
“When I think about improving access to affordable health care, I think of pharmacists as being on the front line,” Blackburn said in a statement to Today. “In Tennessee, 93 of 95 counties are considered medically underserved, so I see pharmacists as being able to meet a great need in our state.”
Blackburn noted that her appreciation for pharmacists was from personal interaction as well as from years of working with pharmacists on a variety of public health issues, including compounding and access to care.
“Congresswoman Blackburn’s key message is that pharmacists are the most accessible member of a patient’s health care team and therefore are the most trusted,” said Alexandra Cervantes, a 2018 PharmD candidate at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy and president-elect of the Carolina Association of Pharmacy Students.
“I have seen firsthand how patients rely on their pharmacists,” Keating said in a statement to Today. “H.R. 592 will make law what so many of us already know: pharmacists are frontline health care providers.” Patients, physicians, and pharmacists “all need to work together to make the system work,” he said.
“Pharmacists need to be included under Medicare for a fully integrated health care system to be realized.”
Said Alison Svoboda, a 2017 PharmD candidate and president of the APhA–ASP chapter at Midwestern University Chicago College of Pharmacy who attended the Dearborn meeting, “The major theme from this year’s MRM was the more we work together, the more we can accomplish.”