By Brad Cochran, executive vice president, Retail Distribution & president, The Medicine Shoppe International, Inc.
I recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) “RxIMPACT Day” on Capitol Hill, advocating on behalf of The Medicine Shoppe International, Inc., a subsidiary of Cardinal Health, to help ensure that patients can continue to access essential care and services provided by their pharmacists – as allowed by the COVID-19 pandemic-related Public Health Emergency (PHE). Along with all members of the Future of Pharmacy Care Coalition, Cardinal Health supports this legislation.
Prior to the 2022 midterm elections, Congress was debating such legislation, called the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act. Now, with a new Congress in place, the bill must be reintroduced, and we expect that to happen within the next several weeks.
As the leader of Retail Distribution at Cardinal Health, president of The Medicine Shoppe International, Inc., and as a member of the Board of Directors of NACDS, I am committed to doing all that I can to help preserve access to pharmacy healthcare services into the future.
A brief background: During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary issued a declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act to allow licensed pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy interns to administer COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and treatment. Because pharmacists are easily accessible to so many Americans, this declaration helped to greatly expand equitable care during the pandemic, particularly among some of the most vulnerable and medically under-served communities.
Over the past three years, we have learned pharmacists’ true value to improved public health. From the beginning, pharmacies pledged to serve Americans with lights on and doors open. As a result, pharmacies are vaccinating more patients against COVID-19 than any other group of healthcare providers. Collectively, they’ve administered roughly 300 million vaccinations. Notably, 43% of people vaccinated against COVID-19 at pharmacies consider themselves among racial or ethnic minority groups.
Moreover, a December 2022 poll by Morning Consult, commissioned by NACDS, showed that Americans have come to rely on their pharmacists more than ever. The poll results found that 64% of American adults believe that “learning the lessons of the pandemic means keeping in place policies that make it easier for patients to access services from pharmacists and other pharmacy team members – including vaccinations.” Among those 65 years and older, the level of support jumps to 77%. Further, 86% of American adults say it is either “very easy” or “somewhat easy” to access pharmacies – rating pharmacies highest for accessibility among all healthcare destinations.
Though the expanded pharmacy access afforded by the PREP Act is not set to expire until the end of 2024, we are advocating now to encourage lawmakers to enact legislation that would continue to offer a dependable payment pathway for Medicare, the nation’s largest insurer, to cover pharmacist-provided vaccinations, testing, and treatment for COVID-19, flu, RSV, strep, and other illnesses. Once enacted, this legislation would help to alleviate gaps in care, preserve vital healthcare access and advance health equity, long after the public health emergency is over.
The legislation would also maintain continuous access to and coverage of lab tests ordered by any pharmacy enrolled with Medicare as an Independent Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory – a lab that performs clinical pathology procedures and that is not affiliated with a hospital, physician, or facility provider – under the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) temporary enrollment processes, without requiring the pharmacy to reenroll in Medicare.
The experience of the last three years demonstrates how pharmacies continue to take extraordinary measures to meet Americans’ needs for essential healthcare services. From staying open and available to their communities from the earliest days of the pandemic, to vaccinating thousands of patients, to providing important testing, treatment, and other healthcare services, the pharmacy community continues to step up and deliver undeniable improvements in care access and equity.
Now more than ever, Americans rely on pharmacies for many basic health services and expect continued access to this care at pharmacies. We must do all that we can to ensure that Americans are able to continue to access critical healthcare services at a nearby pharmacy.
As executive vice president, Retail Distribution at Cardinal Health, Brad Cochran oversees all retail non-acute classes of trade including retail independent, retail chain, mail order, alternate care, community health centers and long-term care. He also is responsible for account management support, consumer health, generics market development and customer programs’ teams. Cochran also serves as president of Medicine Shoppe International, Inc. He currently serves on the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Board of Directors, the NACDS Foundation Board and the Central Ohio Alzheimer’s Association Board.