In the more than thirty years I have practiced pharmacy, I have witnessed a tremendous evolution in the profession. The clinical foundation and training of a pharmacist graduating today is leaps and bounds above where I started my practice. However, one thing has not changed: a pharmacists’ role in patient care goes well beyond dispensing medications.
Today, as before, many pharmacists provide patient-centered services like medication coordination, medication management, patient education, and more. We are the front line of the health care team and often see patients more than any other provider. Pharmacists have become the most over-trained and under-utilized professionals in America.
While the profession is making incredible advancements, pharmacists are limited with the care we can provide because pharmacists are not recognized under the Social Security Act as health care providers eligible for Medicare Part B reimbursement. As such, many patients are denied the full benefit of a pharmacist’s expertise in maximizing the effectiveness of their care.
The exclusion of pharmacists from sections of the Social Security Act also prevents the use of pharmacists’ services in new care delivery models created by Obamacare, essentially freezing the profession.
While doctors should remain the quarterbacks, pharmacists must be given “provider status” so the profession is able to be the integral part of the health care team we are trained to be and optimize outcomes for patients. With provider status, pharmacists would be added to the list of Medicare providers which would not only allow for the best possible care for patients but would also ensure it is done in the most cost-effective manner.
In 2009, the treatment of chronic conditions cost the U.S. health care system $1.7 trillion annually, or about 75 cents of every health care dollar spent. If pharmacists are able to provide improved management of chronic diseases our health care system could see substantial savings.
Moreover, inappropriate medication use costs the American health care system – meaning each one of us who is a patient – nearly $290 billion annually. This is $45 billion more than the total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012.
Medication non-adherence resulting in unnecessary hospitalization costs the system an additional $100 billion. That is enough to provide a flu shot from a pharmacy to 2.5 billion people or 35% of the world’s population. No one is better suited to eliminate this waste than your pharmacist.
In my short time in Washington I have come to realize just how hard it can be to advance commonsense reform. In this case, however, we do not have such a high hill to climb.
In the House, a bipartisan majority of 272 members have cosponsored the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act introduced by Representative Brett Guthrie. This legislation simply gives pharmacists provider status allowing them to rightfully join the health care team to improve patient outcomes and reduce overall health care costs. Companion legislation in the Senate has garnered 42 cosponsors from across the ideological spectrum.
While there is much disagreement on health care policy, let’s move forward with common sense reforms like this to improve access to quality and affordable health care for all Americans.
Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R) represents the First District of Georgia in the United States House of Representatives.