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Bill Targets Patient Access to Pharmacy Care in Rural Areas

The bill will recognize pharmacists as healthcare providers, improving patient access to pharmacy care.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

Pharmacy trade groups are praising the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (HR-592), which aims to improve patient access to pharmacy care by recognizing pharmacists as providers under Medicare Part B.

The bill, originally presented to the 114th Congress, was reintroduced to the House of Representatives on January 20, and companion legislation was reintroduced to the Senate earlier this month. Both pieces of legislation call for better access to pharmacy care, specifically for senior patients living in traditionally underserved areas, such as rural regions.

The bills aim to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act and recognize pharmacists as healthcare providers.

"Pharmacists play an important role in our rural communities, and our senior citizens should not have to travel for basic services when their neighborhood pharmacist is already licensed to help them," said Brett Guthrie (R-KY), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in a statement.

As of right now, individual states authorize pharmacists to offer certain healthcare services for patients, including immunizations, diabetes management, blood pressure screenings, and various routine checks. However, these services are not federally-recognized and there is no direct path for Medicare to reimburse for these services.

If passed, the bill will allow Medicare to reimburse for immunizations, preventive screenings, and other forms of chronic disease management, ultimately recognizing pharmacists as healthcare providers in medically underserved areas.

Primary care can often be difficult for patients in rural areas to access, Guthrie explained. Local pharmacies are usually closer and more convenient for patients to visit, making them an ideal place to receive basic preventive care.

"By allowing Medicare to reimburse pharmacists, seniors will have more immediate access to health care in medically underserved areas," Guthrie said. "I was proud to introduce this bipartisan bill to help our Medicare patients."

Joining Guthrie in sponsoring the bill in the House are G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Tom Reed (R-NY), and Ron Kind (D-WI). Since its reintroduction, the bill has been referred to both the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Ways and Means Committee.

The companion legislation (S.109) was introduced in the Senate by Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Several trade groups have expressed support for the bills’ reintroductions, including the Patient Access to Pharmacists’ Care Coalition, a group of pharmacy industry stakeholders working to improve patient access to pharmacy services.

“H.R. 592 will enable Medicare patients in medically underserved communities to better access important health care services that are often inaccessible to many Medicare beneficiaries, including health and wellness tests and chronic disease management,” said PAPCC advisor Vince Ventimiglia.

“This legislation increases access by enabling pharmacists to provide services they are authorized to provide under state law, and are prepared to provide through their extensive professional education,” Ventimiglia, who is also Vice Chair of Leavitt Partners, continued.

The American Pharmacists Association (APhA), one stakeholder within PAPCC, also praised the bills.

"The American Pharmacists Association is pleased that this important legislation, which will increase patient access to pharmacists' services, has now been reintroduced in both the House and Senate," said Thomas E. Menighan, APhA Executive Vice President and CEO, said in a press release.

"APhA has already begun outreach to both new and returning members of Congress and is excited for the opportunity to build upon the momentum achieved over the last several years."

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