Provider status advocacy results in more cosponsors for H.R. 592, S. 314

New York, Mississippi, New Mexico among latest states to add cosponsors

The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (H.R. 592/S. 314) has accumulated 83 cosponsors in the House and 10 cosponsors in the Senate as of April 3. Congress is currently not in session.

If enacted, the bipartisan legislation would enable patient access to, and coverage of, Medicare Part B services by pharmacists in medically underserved communities. The legislation would improve patient access to health care through pharmacists and their patient care services. H.R. 592 was introduced by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Todd Young (R-IN), and Ron Kind (D-WI) on January 28, 2015. S. 314 was introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Robert Casey (D-PA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on January 29, 2015.

By April 3, provider status advocates in APhA’s Pharmacists Provide Care campaign had sent more than 16,500 communications to Members of Congress since the bills were introduced in late January. The avalanche of letters either thanked Members of Congress for their support of provider status or asked them to support and cosponsor H.R. 592 or S. 314.

Strong advocacy in the states—including state pharmacy associations and student pharmacists—has helped garner support for the legislation.

Both New York senators—Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Chuck E. Schumer (D-NY)—signed on to be cosponsors on March 17 and March 18, respectively. “We did respond to the call to action from APhA and had members make contact with the senators,” Tracy Russell, CAE, Executive Director of the Pharmacy Society of the State of New York, said on April 3. Students at the state’s seven schools of pharmacy also were encouraged to send letters requesting support.

“We are fortunate to have senators who are pharmacy friendly. It did not take a lot to have them sign onto the bill. They understand the benefit of pharmacy interactions with patients’ improved outcomes, and have always been supportive,” Russell added. “The students were active with this campaign.”

Two of the Senate bill’s 10 cosponsors are senators from Mississippi: Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R-MS) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS).

“We have certainly reached out multiple times for their support on any measure that would give pharmacists provider status on a federal level,” said Peter A. Stokes, JD, Executive Director of the Mississippi Pharmacists Association (MPhA).

“This dates back to last year, when [H.R.] 4190 was still in play. We took a trip up to Sen. Cochran’s office and Sen. Wicker’s office. Sen. Cochran has a phenomenal pharmacist on staff [who] advises on pharmacy matters,” he continued, and MPhA President Jillian Foster, PharmD, used to serve on Cochran’s staff as well. “We promised to stay in touch with that office when [H.R. 592/S. 314] came about.”

Stokes noted that MPhA is “plugged in with the Ole Miss [University of Mississippi] School of Pharmacy. We’ve instructed those students to make phone calls. Our board fully supports [the legislation] and has made phone calls as well.”

Of the House bill’s 83 cosponsors, 2 are Mississippi representatives: Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-MS) and Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS).

“Hopefully, we’ll have the entire Mississippi delegation cosigned onto that bill,” Stokes said. “We’re just very excited. I hope that this bill grows legs and gets some traction this year. It’s long overdue.”

New Mexico has a similar story. Sen. Martin Heinrich [D-NM] signed on to cosponsor S. 314. “We did contact the senator to ask him to cosponsor. Students at UNM [University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy] also contacted his office,” said Dale Tinker, Executive Director of the New Mexico Pharmacists Association. “The students are very persuasive!”

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Rep. Stevan Pearce (R-NM) already have signed on to cosponsor H.R. 592. “We had all three [U.S. representatives from New Mexico] signed on to H.R. 4190,” Tinker added. “We have asked all our delegation to sign on.”

Student pharmacists at University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy met with Rep. David E. Price (D-NC) on March 6 at the school, according to Jennifer Ku, a 2017 PharmD candidate.

APhA directed the student pharmacists to Pharmacists Provide Care handouts and advised them on how to approach certain topics. “The biggest [advice] was to explicitly ask for cosponsorship—which surprisingly worked in our case,” Ku said. “I think all of our hearts stopped a bit when Rep. Price told us at the end of the visit that he decided to cosponsor H.R. 592.”

Added Jenny Levine, a 2016 PharmD candidate there and the APhA Academy of Student Pharmacists Chapter President, “Sharing personal patient care stories seems to make more of an impact than just stating facts.”