The campaign to pass the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (H.R. 592/S. 314) made major strides in 2015. The legislation enables patient access to, and coverage for, Medicare Part B services by state-licensed pharmacists in medically underserved communities. H.R. 592 was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2015 by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Todd Young (R-IN), and Ron Kind (D-WI). For the first time, a companion bill, S. 314, was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Mark Kirk (R-IL).
During 2015, both bills garnered widespread bipartisan support. Within 30 days of H.R. 592’s introduction, more than 60 House members had become cosponsors. By June, cosponsorship of the House bill surpassed support for the bill in the previous Congress. In October, the bill achieved an important milestone when the majority of House members were signed on as cosponsors, and a key highlight of the year was when Reps. Buddy Carter (R-GA), BSPharm; Doug Collins (R-GA); Austin Scott (R-GA); Rod Blum (R-IA); and David Loebsack (D-IA) discussed the importance of provider status during a special floor session of the House. At press time, there were 257 cosponsors in the House and 39 cosponsors in the Senate.
“The campaign really expanded support in the pharmacy community this year, which helped translate into tremendous support in Congress,” said APhA Senior Lobbyist Michael Spira.
APhA continued its leadership role in growing support for the legislation. PharmacistsProvideCare.com, APhA’s website dedicated to the campaign on provider status, was revamped with information, resources, and tools to help pharmacists advocate to elected officials, policy makers, and decision makers. By May, five times more letters from supporters were generated to Congress than during all of 2014, and the campaign became the largest grassroots advocacy effort in APhA’s 163-year history. By year’s end, the campaign had 21,000 supporters who had sent more than 36,000 letters to Congress. APhA also collaborated with individual pharmacists and student pharmacists to produce video testimonials of patient care stories from all 50 states.
Provider status was the main subject at key APhA meetings and events during the year. At the 2015 APhA Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, more than 1,000 pharmacists and student pharmacists pledged support for the campaign at the Pharmacists Provide Care booth. During the summer and fall, members of the APhA Board of Trustees, student pharmacists attending the APhA Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA–ASP) Summer Leadership Institute, and state pharmacy association executives visited Capitol Hill to discuss provider status with Members of Congress and their staff. APhA–ASP also hosted Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Bill Keating (D-MA) as keynote speakers at the fall’s Midyear Regional Meetings, and they spoke in support of provider status.
APhA was a leading member of the Patient Access to Pharmacists’ Care Coalition, formed in 2014 to advocate for provider status at the federal level.
At the state level, 94 bills—three times as many as last year—were introduced to address patient access to pharmacists’ care. Sixteen bills were introduced on the definition of pharmacists as providers; 53 bills were introduced addressing scope of practice issues, including collaborative practice agreements; and 25 bills were introduced on payment for services. In January, the National Governors Association issued a report recognizing the value pharmacists provide in improving public health and urging states to “consider actions to expand pharmacists’ scope of practice.” In April, North Dakota passed a series of measures increasing opportunities for pharmacists and their patients. Other states like Washington and Oregon followed suit.
“Our goal in 2016 is to keep the momentum going,” Spira said. “In addition to success at the state level, we hope to see continued progress on federal legislation.”