News you can use, Sept 2015


USNS Mercy logs four countries and 19,000 miles

As the Pacific Partnership 2015 mission comes to a close for the pharmacy team aboard the USNS Mercy, one thing is evident: the practice of pharmacy continues to advance for the better around the world. 

Visiting four countries and traversing more than 19,000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean over 5 months, the staff of the pharmacy department dispensed thousands of prescriptions to patients seeking medical assistance while supporting nearly 1,000 surgeries on the ship. In addition, 25 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians from eight countries and various militaries and nongovernmental organizations contributed to 100 hours of subject matter expert exchange with host nation counterparts. 

Nora Chovick, PharmD, of Oakland, CA, a Pacific Partnership volunteer, directly assisted in the dispensing and donation of 15,000 prescriptions to more than 5,000 patients in the Philippines. Her work was part of Project Hope, among the nongovernmental organizations that supported the Pacific Partnership mission with medical professionals and other specialties. “The pharmacists in the Philippines are extremely knowledgeable and practice with the same dedication and compassion as pharmacists in the United States,” said Chovick. “Pharmacy care will continue to improve if we can work together to ensure our patients receive the best care and the best clinical interventions possible.”

Pacific Partnership has allowed the USNS Mercy pharmacy team to better understand how pharmacists and pharmacy technicians can provide humanitarian assistance and aid to areas of the South Pacific prone to natural disaster. Project Hope is just one of many organizations where pharmacists can contribute to assuring patients in need of pharmaceutical care receive the best possible outcomes both in the United States and abroad. 

—LCDR Dean Kang, PharmD, MHA, Department Head, Pharmacy, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19)

20 years 
ago today …

Following are top headlines from September 1995:

  • “When a child is ill, the pharmacist can help”: When treating pediatric patients, the community pharmacist should tailor the presentation of information to the level of understanding of the parents and caregivers; make safe and effective dosage recommendations by knowing the ingredients in OTC medications and the child’s medical history, current symptoms, and age and height; help choose the most effective way to administer medication; and know when to make a referral to the physician.

  • “Wisconsin to pay pharmacists for cognitive services”: Under the Incentive Based Pharmacy Payment System, developed by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services with input from what was then the Wisconsin Pharmacists Association, pharmacists were to be paid to provide more than 40 pharmaceutical care services to Medicaid patients.

  • “GAO: Value of third class of drugs not proven”: The need for a third, pharmacist-controlled class of drugs in the United States had yet to be demonstrated, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Provider status legislation, advocacy set new records

Pharmacists and student pharmacists are making their voices heard. As Congress headed into the August recess, the federal provider status legislation—the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (H.R. 592/S. 314)—had 185 cosponsors in the House and 28 cosponsors in the Senate. At this same time last year, the legislation had only 94 cosponsors in the House, and no companion legislation had yet been introduced in the Senate. 

APhA’s Pharmacists Provide Care campaign supporters sent more than 27,000 letters to Congress in the first 7 months of 2015, compared with only 1,610 letters in the first 7 months of 2014. To continue the momentum, pharmacists and student pharmacists can start by clicking Take Action at 

The Association is proud to announce the launch of the new APhA Political Action Committee (APhA–PAC) section of APhA members can keep up to date via the new APhA–PAC Insider Blog and learn how the PAC is representing the profession of pharmacy and patients around the country. To learn more about how to get involved, visit the new site today at

Some Tricare prescriptions to shift to mail service, military pharmacies

Tricare beneficiaries (except for active-duty service members) who fill select brand-name maintenance medications at community pharmacies must generally switch their prescriptions to military treatment facility pharmacies or the national mail-service pharmacy program, according to new regulations mandated by Congress.

The requirement applies to a list of maintenance medications used on a regular basis for chronic health conditions. They do not apply to medications for acute conditions. There is a waiver program that includes blanket waivers for acute care medications and medications paid for by another health insurance program; and case-by-case waivers for refills at a community pharmacy when necessary because of “personal need or hardship, emergency, or other special circumstance, for example, for nursing home residents”—a waiver that is obtained through an administrative override request to the Tricare pharmacy benefits manager.

The Department of Defense interim final rule was published in the Federal Register on August 6, 2015. The change is effective October 1, 2015. Comments are due October 5, 2015, to be considered and addressed in the final rule.

The interim final rule is a result of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, which is how Congress funds the military. The change was based on a Tricare pilot program.

“The effect of this statutory requirement, implemented by this rule, is to shift a volume of prescriptions from retail pharmacies to the mail order pharmacy program,” according to the Federal Register notice. “This will produce savings to the Department of Defense of approximately $88 [million] per year and savings to beneficiaries of approximately $16.5 million per year in reduced copayments.”

HHS marks 50 years of Medicare, Medicaid

At a July 29 event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in her keynote address that more than one in three Americans have health coverage from Medicare and Medicaid.

“No other program has changed so many lives. No other program has given people so much hope,” Burwell said. For 50 years, Medicare and Medicaid have been at the center of health care; today, they’re at the forefront, she concluded. “Here’s to another 50 years and beyond.”

The Social Security Act amendment that created the Medicare and Medicaid programs was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 30, 1965. The event at HHS headquarters in Washington, DC, commemorated the half-century anniversary in front of a standing room–only crowd of hundreds, including people important to the programs’ history.

Burwell called for more states to expand access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. She also mentioned HHS’s January announcement on goals and a timeline to shift Medicare reimbursements from volume to value, accountable care organizations, and health data.

In welcoming remarks, CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt referred to Medicare Part D as “an incredibly vital and important part” of Medicare.

Slavitt also moderated a panel discussion featuring Jason Furman, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors; Sister Carol Keehan, President and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States; Nancy A. LeaMond, Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, AARP; Diane Rowland, ScD, Executive Vice President of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; and Steven M. Safyer, MD, President and CEO of Montefiore Health System in the Bronx, NY.

When Slavitt asked the panelists for their advice to CMS, responses were sometimes pointed. Montefiore’s Safyer pointed out CMS’s “huge leverage and the bully pulpit” to influence the health care system, such as through value-based purchasing; warned the agency to “stay away from vouchers”; and noted the agency’s influence on drug manufacturers.

Safyer said that mergers are going on around generics, and generic prices are rising. Meanwhile, there are “very important breakthroughs” in pharmaceuticals but “the price is too high,” he added. “Don’t be shy.” This comment was greeted with the event’s only burst of spontaneous applause.

Early in the panel discussion, Furman said it’s impossible to make the moral argument for Medicare and Medicaid without the economic case as well, and vice versa. Safyer asserted that “health care should be a human right and not a privilege.”

Medicare and Medicaid “represent some of the best values in our country,” Keehan said. “So thank you.”