Pharmacies play key role in health equity, but need reimbursement

Pharmacy Times At the National Association of Chain Drugstores (NACDS) 2022 Total Store Expo, we spoke with Jason Ausili, PharmD, Head of Pharmacy Transformation at EnlivenHealth. Pharmacies have proven their worth time and time again and remain essential to providing equitable healthcare, but Ausili said they need fair reimbursement to move forward.

Q: Pharmacists and pharmacies have always been frontline healthcare resources for patients, and even more so during the pandemic. Can you talk about the importance of access to healthcare and the role pharmacies play in that?

Jason Ausiri, PharmD: Of course, 90% of the population lives within 5 miles of a pharmacy as it’s the most accessible healthcare facility in the nation. Taking it a step further, 74% of local pharmacies are located in areas of less than 50,000 people. So when I think about the role pharmacists have played, I want to talk a little bit about COVID-19. Because it shines a bright light on the value that pharmacists bring to healthcare. However, pharmacists are now expanding the services they offer. COVID-19 has truly opened the door to vaccines, tests and treatments. But now the world is truly open to more public health services being promoted at pharmacy locations.

Q: Do you think the pandemic has restricted or expanded access to healthcare?

Jason Ausiri, PharmD: You know, it was difficult. Because suddenly the entire population needs more healthcare than ever before. But pharmacies, as I mentioned, were uniquely positioned to be the most accessible healthcare providers. That’s not to say there weren’t health equity issues or access issues. But of his over 263 million vaccines administered, the COVID-19 vaccine is administered in pharmacies. Health equity would have been hit much harder if pharmacists weren’t there to help our country.

Q: Over the past two years there has been a growing interest in equity in healthcare. What does fairness mean in this context?

Jason Ausiri, PharmD: Equity means enabling everyone and everyone to achieve optimal health. And how to stack cards differs from person to person. Regardless of whether you live in a dense urban environment or in the countryside. Not everyone gets the same care. It means truly understanding what the specific barriers are that are preventing each person from achieving optimal health. Create. Pharmacists are ideally prepared to work with the social determinants of health. We all know health is more than just medicine, right? A lot of it has to do with where people live, work and play, and pharmacists have the most contact with patients. A pharmacist sees two to nine times as many patients as the attending physician. The growing gap in primary care physicians also increases the importance of pharmacists connecting regularly with their patients. Because they are the most accessible, they are uniquely prepared to fight health equity, health equity issues, and really push the bar forward.

Q: How are pharmacists responding to calls for improved equity?

Jason Ausiri, PharmD: So you think you’ve seen that with COVID-19, right? So, as I said earlier, over 263 million vaccinations is a staggering amount of vaccinations pharmacists have provided during the pandemic. But it doesn’t have to stop there, right? There is now very important legislation in place that will further expand the ways pharmacists reach their communities. There is currently one specific bill in the House that is still in the introduction stage. But it is a pharmacy and medically underserved community enhancement law that privileged pharmacists under federal health care provider status and gave them fair reimbursement at her 85% of the doctor’s tariff. It’s really important to recognize the pharmacist in that aspect. Otherwise, the scalability and viability of your service will be jeopardized if you don’t get your fair payout. Thus, there are many other things pharmacists can do beyond public health services such as smoking cessation. We’ve mentioned vaccines, tests, and treatments, but we’re also thinking about medical conditions such as diabetes. Pharmacists are highly skilled and educated to train patients not only on disease conditions, diabetes and education, but also on how to better manage diabetes prevention. These are her two very large areas of influence in our country, and pharmacists are uniquely prepared to solve these problems.

Q: Desertification in healthcare is also a serious problem. What role will independent pharmacies, in particular, play in alleviating these deserts?

Jason Ausiri, PharmD: As mentioned earlier, 74% of community pharmacies have a population of less than 50,000. So when you think of rural and underserved areas and medical deserts, perhaps the only convenient access is your local pharmacy. I interviewed a pharmacist who lives in the area. And during COVID-19, he traveled to small towns around communities to set up COVID-19 clinics to test and vaccinate, a very important service that he brought to those communities. Otherwise, where would these patients access care? Without him, they wouldn’t, perhaps they wouldn’t have access to care. is very important.we [must] Leveraging community pharmacists in these medical deserts to provide the care people really need.

Q: What are your predictions for the future of health equity and the role of pharmacy within it?

Jason Ausiri, PharmD: As the pharmacist’s scope of work expands, it will increase more and more. If you think about it, there are many similarities there. And we must ensure that the privileges we have gained during the pandemic are not lost. Some of the privileges provided by HHS and the PREP Act are at risk of revoking when the public health emergency ends. We need to make sure the pharmacist is expanding not only her COVID-19, but flu, streptococcal, and other communicable vaccinations, tests, and treatments. Therefore, given the accessibility that pharmacies offer, other services that fit the pharmacist’s scope of practice would also be beneficial. Accessibility to pharmacies, all these services will also be more accessible to patients.

Q: Anything you want to add?

Jason Ausiri, PharmD: Absolutely. So, as I said, I would like to reiterate that immediate legislative action is needed to solidify the pharmacist privileges we have earned during the pandemic. . We confirm that the legislation currently in the House of Representatives — there is the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacy Services Act, also in the implementation stage and now sitting in the House — recognizes pharmacists as providers at the federal level. need to do it. , under Medicare, reimburse pharmacies fairly for pandemic-related services. Now is the time to pass that bill. Will there be another pandemic, as we learned with COVID-19? Well, we don’t have the magic 8-ball. But at the same time we have to prepare for another pandemic. Now is the time to do it. Not halfway through, right? So let’s further position pharmacies in the long term to help fight the pandemic and become this critical role that can really help health equity and public health services as a whole. ? For these services to be scalable and viable for pharmacies, they need to be paid fairly for these services. So the other thing that needs to come with these bills is fair reimbursement.

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