February 12, 2019

by Jenna Bentley

Thanks to pathbreaking innovations in healthcare, ailments once considered debilitating or even deadly can now be effectively addressed with routine treatments. But it’s not always convenient and affordable—or even necessary—to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

There are better ways to get people safe, reliable medical treatment faster and at lower cost. For example, imagine a parent who suspects her child has the flu. She must make an appointment with a doctor—she’ll be lucky to get one on the same day—and then wait and pay for an office visit. Then, if her child tests positive, she’ll have to fill the doctor’s prescription, usually at a different location—which means still more time and money. All that unnecessary and expensive hassle is due to Arizona’s obsolete regulations—laws that make simple tests and treatments needlessly complex and costly. And it’s not just a minor hassle. These restrictions can have serious consequences, because delaying or foregoing treatment for even simple illnesses can be very dangerous.

None of this is necessary. Representative Nancy Barto’s HB 2548 fixes this by allowing licensed and trained pharmacists to administer flu tests and prescribe safe and approved medicines like Tamiflu on the spot—one visit, one payment, one safe and simple treatment. Such simple, commonsense reform could save families precious time and money. It would also facilitate speedier and more widespread treatment, which could mean faster healing and fewer symptoms for individual patients—and in the long run, stronger disease control and prevention for the general public.

HB 2548 improves access to routine healthcare, saving patients time and money and preventing the spread of disease. It would let trained and licensed pharmacists:

  • Give flu and strep throat tests and treatments
  • Prescribe treatment for common nasal allergies
  • Give TB tests and refer patients for treatment who test positive
  • Extend prescriptions for routine medications for up to 60 days

States across the country have successfully adopted these reforms already. For decades, the Veterans Administration has allowed pharmacists to perform the tasks HB 2548 would allow—and much more. In fact, the VA allows pharmacists to act as primary care providers, prescribing drugs and lab tests, making referrals to specialists, and even doing physical exams. And it’s working. In 2015, VA pharmacists wrote 1.9 million prescriptions for chronic diseases. Dr. Shannon Mentzel, Acting Chief of Pharmacy at the Phoenix VA,testified to the House Health and Human Services Committee last week that the Phoenix VA Health Care System has 22 pharmacists practicing in primary care, which has led to better access to better quality care. At the El Paso VA, averagepatient wait time fell from two months to two weeks thanks to this reform.

Arizona pharmacists already dispense emergency prescription refills, and test blood sugar for diabetes management. They already play an important role in preventing the spread of disease—they administered almost 700,000 doses of immunizations in 2017. And, most importantly, they’re already extensively trained in medication therapy management. In fact, Arizona law alreadyrequires them to be experts in medication.

HB 2548 contains extensive safeguards and oversight. It lets the Pharmacy Board require additional training and qualifications for pharmacists when necessary. And it allows the Department of Health to require a doctor’s prescription for specific treatments. These and other protections will improve patient safety—particularly for the many patients who—lacking access to medical treatment—sometimes forego treatment entirely, or seek it across the border, where the Arizona has no oversight over pharmacies and treatments.

Giving pharmacists greater freedom to help patients wouldn’t just help improve access to medicine—it would also strengthen protections against the spread of disease across Arizona. Let’s take this common sense step to allow pharmacists—highly trained medical specialists, and the most accessible healthcare professionals in Arizona—provide safe, simple, and efficient patient care.

Jenna Bentley is Director of Government Affairs for the Goldwater Institute.

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