Pay pharmacists for COVID-19 services to help underserved patients, make testing more accessible, groups tell Congress

Twenty-four national organizations representing patients, consumers, the medically underserved, public health advocates, physicians, and diverse health care providers sent a letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders urging the inclusion of payment for pharmacists who provide COVID-19 and flu testing and immunization in the next package of coronavirus legislation. In the letter, the groups assert that pharmacist-provided patient care services improve patient outcomes, something that is particularly important during the pandemic.

The letter was spearheaded by the National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (National Forum) and signed by 23 other organizations. To address the urgent need to expand Americans’ access to COVID-19 and influenza testing and immunization, the groups wrote in the letter, Congress should designate pharmacists as providers under Medicare Part B in the upcoming COVID-19 legislative package. “Congress must recognize pharmacists as providers of billable services to reinforce the meaningful expansion of patient care, especially in underserved or otherwise vulnerable populations.”

The groups urged Congress and the president to “enact emergency policies that will multiply the sites where people can get COVID-19 and influenza testing and vaccination, and bring these services closer to where people live and work,” John M. Clymer, National Forum executive director, wrote in a blog post.

“The experts predict that the coming double-whammy of COVID-19 and flu is going to be tough on people, families, communities, employers, the health care system, and the country,” Clymer told pharmacist.com. “Congress and President Trump can get ahead of the curve by enabling people to get COVID-19 and flu testing and vaccinations at pharmacies.”

“As the number of COVID-19 cases spike in certain communities across the country and the flu season approaches, the opportunity cannot be missed to ramp up patient access to testing and immunizations,” the letter reads. The signers wrote that it “is critical to enable all frontline health care professionals to provide care in alignment with their training and expertise to improve health outcomes in response to the public health emergency.”

The letter also emphasizes that evidence shows that team-based care that includes primary care providers, pharmacists, and nurses improves patients’ health. “Yet in many parts of the U.S., policy barriers preclude pharmacists from providing or being reimbursed for such care,” the groups wrote. A lack of fair and reasonable reimbursement for their services prevents pharmacists’ from delivering the full range of services for which they are trained to provide, they warned.

“It is critical that Congress act now to improve patient access to care nationwide in response to the pandemic. This letter reinforces the importance of team-based care that puts patients first and recognizes that one way to strengthen this aim is by removing barriers to pharmacists’ services,” said Meg Freiter, PharmD, APhA senior manager of pharmacy practice.

“The leading patient, consumer, seniors, and public health groups are absolutely important, but the support from doctors and nurses is especially significant because they recognize the need to expand access to health care,” Freiter continued. “They know that inadequate access is making the COVID-19 burden and disparities even worse, and that enabling people to get care from pharmacists will help solve these problems.”