Wait times for coronavirus test results have come down since the pandemic began, but there are still 10-14 day waits in many parts of the country, inhibiting America’s ability to "flatten the curve."
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Now, pharmacists are pushing for the government to slash the red tape that stops them from being providers with the flexibility to test patients for coronavirus. The biggest problem is that pharmacists aren’t recognized as providers under Medicare Part B, which excludes them from a range of services they are trained for.
“Our laws that govern Medicare and Medicaid in this country were written back in the '60s, and over a long period of time these antiquated laws have never recognized pharmacists as being able to provide direct health care services under the Medicare program,” American Pharmacists Association President Michael Hogue told FOX Business Friday. “This is despite the fact that pharmacists are all doctorally trained. They’re the second most advanced degreed health care provider behind physicians, and are perfectly capable of doing it.”
The Trump administration has taken a couple actions to ease the restrictions on pharmacists.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced in April that some licensed pharmacists can order and administer coronavirus tests, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services unveiled a way in May for pharmacists to bill Medicare by enrolling as an independent clinical laboratory.
But many industry leaders say Congress needs to pass a universal law that designates all pharmacists as providers under Medicare. The APA wrote a letter to Congressional leaders last week, urging them to pass such a law. They argue that this will make testing much more seamless throughout the country, bringing down wait times.
“To ensure appropriate and timely access to needed services necessary to respond to the current pandemic, including testing, immunization and other services, Congress must authorize pharmacists provider status in Medicare Part B,” the senior vice president of APA wrote to Congress. “Doing so would allow pharmacists and pharmacies to bill Medicare directly for testing and immunization services provided by their employee pharmacists as Medicare providers.”
There are more than 67,000 pharmacies spread throughout the United States, according to a study in the journal Plos One.
“We’ve got this easily accessible professional who is right in your local community, in community pharmacies all across America, in rural areas and in urban areas. Pharmacists are ready to help people get back to work and help people get back to work and help people get back to school, but until Congress acts, it’s going to be very difficult for us to be able to come to the aid of the consumer,” Hogue said.