NCPA to HHS: Pharmacists are allies in health-reform shift to preventive care

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The reformed U.S. healthcare system could unleash a surge in patient demand for preventive care services, and community pharmacists should be part of any plan to meet that demand, the independent pharmacy lobby told Obama administration health officials.

That message came from the National Community Pharmacists Association in comments recently submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services. The group urged the officials implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to make full use of community pharmacists in the nation’s increasing reliance on preventive care — particularly if the health-reform law encourages patients to take advantage of low-cost health-and-wellness services provided through federally funded programs.

The NCPA weighed in after HHS issued a proposed interim final rule on the implementation of the massive health-reform act. The agency is recommending that participating health plans and insurers waive patient co-pays for certain recommended preventive services and vaccines.

“Examples of preventative services commonly available at community pharmacies include blood pressure and cholesterol screening, tobacco cessation and obesity-related counseling and intervention,” the NCPA noted. “The HHS requirement would apply to private, nongrandfathered group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage through the health insurance exchanges scheduled to take effect in 2014.”

The independent pharmacy group is asking HHS to make two adjustments to its proposed rule. One, the NCPA told the agency, is to “modify the rule to allow patients to receive certain preventative services from any qualified provider [including community pharmacies] without incurring a co-payment.” The group also urged HHS to “actively promote a more collaborative approach to healthcare services by encouraging health plans to enlist the services of allied healthcare providers, such as pharmacists, to help provide community-based preventative care services to plan enrollees.”

An initial investment in preventative care services, the NCPA noted in its comments, “can reap many downstream benefits, including demonstrable improvement in patient care outcomes, a reduction in hospital re-admissions and ultimately savings due to lower healthcare costs."

“Just as the practice of medicine has undergone a change in focus from treatment of disease states to preventative care, pharmacy has gone from an emphasis on medication dispensing to one of effective medication use and achieving optimal patient outcomes,” the group told HHS officials.

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