For people living in rural areas of the U.S., access to healthcare providers can be a serious challenge. Pharmacists can be part of the solution. And in a welcome show of bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are co-sponsoring legislation that can help.
The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, which was recently reintroduced in both houses of Congress (H.R. 592, S. 109), would include pharmacists on the list of recognized healthcare providers that can be reimbursed by Medicare for providing much needed patient care in underserved areas. USP supports this legislation as a major step forward in improving healthcare. Here are three reasons why:
1. Pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals
Pharmacists have been valued partners in USP’s work since we created our first medication quality standards nearly 200 years ago. The pharmacy profession has evolved tremendously since then and pharmacists today are highly trained healthcare professionals with extensive specialized education and training, which often includes post-doctoral residency programs in patient care and specialty areas, such as cardiology, geriatric care, emergency care, ambulatory care, and more.
2. Pharmacists are easily accessible to patients
Although more than 60 million Americans live in medically underserved communities where physicians may be scarce, pharmacists are readily available to counsel patients when they pick up prescribed medications and purchase nonprescription medicine and nutritional supplements. Pharmacists do more than help patients understand and manage their medication therapy. They frequently are the only healthcare provider advising patients about the quality and use of dietary supplements, as many patients may not discuss their use of these products with their physicians or other prescribers. Pharmacists also can provide an array of health and wellness testing, immunizations, and other important healthcare services.
3. Pharmacists improve healthcare
As medications evolve to be more complex, including the growing use of biologics and biosimilars, and the development of personalized medicine, it is more important than ever that Medicare beneficiaries in underserved communities can turn to their pharmacists for counsel and care. The prevalence of chronic health conditions today, such as diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart disease make the need for access to pharmacists’ healthcare services even more urgent. Multiple programs around the country have demonstrated how pharmacists can help improve the care of these and other chronic diseases while reducing overall healthcare costs1,2.
Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help close the patient care gap in medically underserved communities. The bipartisan support for the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act demonstrates that legislators and policymakers recognize the value pharmacists bring to patients and the U.S. healthcare system. USP applauds this step and supports swift passage of this important legislation.
Click here to learn more about how pharmacists care for patients.
Ronald T. Piervincenzi, Ph.D. is the chief executive officer of USP. Follow him on Twitter @RonPiervincenzi