Tough choices, strong actions
As you have probably heard, APhA staff and leadership have made the difficult decision to cancel APhA2020. The health and safety of APhA members, staff, and meeting attendees are paramount, and in the end, it was a matter of looking at the evidence and what have shown to be best practices. This is almost unprecedented: The last time APhA canceled a meeting was during the second World War.
We were already dealing with the disappointment that comes with having to let go of something we’ve worked so hard toward for so long. By the time we have one Annual Meeting, we’re already planning the next. This is painful for us and many of you.
Now, APhA staff has the added strangeness of saying goodbye to each other—at least in person—as we begin working remotely for at least 1 week, and more if that is prudent.
Despite these temporary setbacks, we’re already taking action to make sure that we and the pharmacists we represent can play a role in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
APhA released a statement today emphasizing the importance of keep pharmacists and other health care providers safe. Safeguards for pharmacy staff involved in screening, testing, treatment, and prevention must be built into the procedures and systems that are developing. Thorough safety considerations benefit not only providers themselves but their own families, the public, their patients, and their patients’ families. Read the statement at https://apha.us/PharmacistSafety.
APhA is working with leaders and decision makers across the health care system to address the safety needs and concerns of pharmacists and pharmacy personnel as they serve patients and communities. We encourage pharmacy owners and managers to incorporate innovative procedures into their daily operations, such as home delivery as well as drive-through and curbside pickup, to help protect staff and their patients.
If you’ve had successes in these areas, tell us about it! Let’s stop the spread of COVID-19 by spreading best practices among our colleagues!
We launched a page with the latest and best coronavirus resources last month. If you haven’t already, check out the resource center at https://pharmacist.com/coronavirus.
On Thursday, March 12, 2020, APhA released a statement calling on the nation’s health insurers and PBMs to immediately remove administrative barriers to pharmacists and patients filling prescriptions early at their pharmacy of choice. Along with facilitating early refills, health insurers and PBMs must remove burdensome prior authorization requirements and promote home delivery. Doing so would ensure patients have the medications to address their needs as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic limits access. You can read the statement at https://apha.us/RemoveBarriers.
Without immediate implementation of broad, systemwide authorization for early or emergency refills for chronic medications, patients may have to endure long waits at the pharmacy while the pharmacist jumps through administrative hoops. That makes patients unhappy and limits pharmacists’ ability to provide patient care services—at the worst possible time to do so.
Some states and payers have already authorized pharmacists to dispense emergency refills or have waived early medication refill limits on 30-day prescription maintenance medications. CDC and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued guidance to the same end.
APhA also strongly supports the recent actions taken by CMS reminding Medicare Advantage and Part D plans of their ability to remove prior authorization requirements, waive prescription refill limits, and relax the restrictions on home or mail delivery of prescription drugs. We’d like to go one step beyond reminders or recommendations: We want CMS to require plans to implement these changes.
And on Friday, March 13, 2020, following the President’s declaration of a national emergency, we sent a letter to the president’s Coronavirus Task Force urging it and U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to use their full authority to maximize the use of pharmacists to prevent, treat, and respond to the coronavirus. In a public health emergency, the Secretary has the authority to temporarily allow providers who provide services in good faith to be reimbursed and exempted from sanctions (absent any determination of fraud or abuse).
Specifically, we call on Secretary Azar and the Task Force to allow pharmacists to administer a rapid diagnostic test for coronavirus when one is available for point-of-care testing, when it is available; collect samples to send to CDC for currently available testing; assess patients, conduct testing, interpret results, and provide available treatment or referrals, according to CDC guidance; receive a CLIA Certificate of Waiver, when appropriate, for coronavirus point-of-care testing when it is available; and evaluate patients and prescribe appropriate medications as it currently done in several states with antivirals to treat influenza.
APhA’s letter also calls on the Task Force to recognize pharmacists as capable immunizers and use their services to administer the coronavirus vaccine when it is available. Read the letter at https://apha.us/PenceLetter.
America’s pharmacists stand ready to provide patient care, whether it’s related to coronavirus or other health needs, but they can best serve patients if barriers to access to medications from their pharmacy of choice are removed NOW—not later.
[updated 4:38 pm, March 17]