Petition for provider status for pharmacists takes wing

Organizer Sandra Leal hopes to reach 10,000 signatures.

petition on Change.org is circulating to recognize pharmacists as health care providers under the Social Security Act.

Calling provider status a “critical safety issue,” the petition opened on November 15 and, as of 12:45 pm on December 13, had reached 6,994 signatures.

The organizer of the petition is Sandra Leal, PharmD, CDE, Director of Clinical Pharmacy at El Rio Health Center in Tucson, AZ. Her personal plan is to reach 10,000 signatures “so that I can print the signatures and comments to mail them to payers, policy makers, and any other stakeholder that I can think of,” Leal told pharmacist.com.

Leal built buzz for her petition at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear Clinical Meeting & Exposition on December 4–8, passing out buttons and business cards with QR codes to those attending the New Orleans conference. She will continue to promote the petition at a Patient Safety and Clinical Pharmacy Services Collaborative (PSPC) meeting in January and the 2012 APhA Annual Meeting & Exposition on March 9–12.

Leal is a member of APhA and ASHP, Co-Chair of PSPC, and a recipient of an APhA Foundation Project IMPACT: Diabetes grant. She is profiled in the Pharmacists in Action section of the December issue of Pharmacy Today, which will be posted next week on www.pharmacytoday.org.

“I feel it is a critical time to assert ourselves as pharmacists,” Leal told pharmacist.com. As health care reform is implemented, many new proposals discuss innovative ways to improve care with team-based approaches such as accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes, she said, “but I do not believe that any of them clearly define the critical role that pharmacists play or ways for us to be able to justify our positions financially so that we can either initiate or spread our practices.”

The petition addresses President Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the CMS Administrator, the Arizona governor, the Arizona State Senate, and the Arizona State House.

In their present form, the Medicare Part B provisions of the Social Security Act recognize the following health professionals (in addition to physicians) as health care providers: physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse–midwives, clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, and registered dietitians or nutrition professionals.

“People are surprised that pharmacists are not health care providers under the Social Security Act,” Leal said. “What I have learned from this process is that a basic media campaign to inform and educate people is key to making this happen. I have even received comments from pharmacy students who are about to graduate that they were not aware this was a barrier that they would be facing upon graduation.”

Leal called for national pharmacy organizations to support provider status and “to campaign for the fact that pharmacists should be providers.” Referring to provider status, Leal said, “It’s been put on the back burner. It’s not going to happen if we just assume it will.”

Leal picked Change.org for her petition “because this particular website has had successful media attention recently,” she said. The Change.org mojo worked on Bank of America, contributing to the financial behemoth’s decision to drop its proposed $5 debit card fee.

When Leal started the petition, she didn’t know what level of support would be sufficient to engage discussion or a serious response. An individual who signed the petition directed her to a White House petition program called We the People, which requires 25,000 signatures in 30 days to receive an official response from the Obama administration. She decided not to move the petition over to that forum because the Change.org petition was gaining momentum.

According to Leal, the petition is receiving signatures from physicians, nurses, and most importantly, patients.

“I’ll keep [the petition] open until we get enough signatures to make a difference,” Leal said.