A conference in Washington this week highlighted for policymakers the unique health care needs of rural communities and how independent community pharmacists and other “sole providers” play a leading role helping patients in these underserved areas.
The National Rural Health Association’s Rural Health Policy Institute, attended by NCPA staff, brought rural health care providers face-to-face with a bipartisan array of Members of Congress and Administration officials. Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, discussed the importance of small pharmacies connecting to state-based health information exchanges (HIEs). Later, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) touted the importance of pharmacists practicing in rural areas – one of the reasons for a new pharmacy school at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Independent community pharmacists are a critical component of the rural health care network.
Cost savings. In rural areas, community pharmacists play a valuable role in the health care of their patients, using their expertise and knowledge to reduce costs by promoting the optimal use of drugs while helping to minimize adverse drug effects.
Accessible health provider. Independent community pharmacies provide much-needed access to care to patients in traditionally underserved and rural areas, including seniors and low-income individuals. Independents represent 39% of all retail pharmacies, but represent 52% of all rural retail pharmacies. Over 1,800 independent community pharmacies operate as the only retail pharmacy within their rural community.
Primary care services. The RUPRI Center for Health Policy Analysis and the North Carolina Rural Health Research & Policy Analysis Center found that 91% of all sole community pharmacies are located in rural communities, and that 22% are located more than 20 miles from the next closest retail pharmacy. Furthermore, their study found that 83% of sole community pharmacies provide important services to other health care organizations, with blood pressure checks, diabetes counseling, and immunizations as the most common services provided.
To help assure continued patient access to rural independent pharmacies, NCPA continues to support policies such as ensuring adequate Medicaid generic drug reimbursement and exempting small pharmacies from Medicare’s durable medical equipment competitive bidding program.