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Healthcare Roundup: Pharmacists’ Expanded Healthcare Role, Wastewater Surveillance & More

April 01, 2022

Expanded Role for Pharmacists in Many States

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, states were expanding pharmacists’ role in providing healthcare. Over a dozen states allow pharmacists to test and treat people for the flu, strep throat, urinary tract infections and HIV prevention, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. Some also let pharmacists prescribe birth control and drugs to help people stop smoking. Usually the pharmacists operate under agreements with physicians or rules known as statewide protocols.

A few states, such as Arkansas, have allowed pharmacists to prescribe medications on their own authority for the treatment of conditions for which there are rapid point-of-care tests, provided they adhere to protocols established by the state’s board of pharmacy or medical board.

The Biden administration also wants to allow a limited number of pharmacies with retail clinics that employ physicians or other healthcare professionals with prescribing authority to immediately provide antiviral medication to those who test positive for COVID-19, with the amount of time since the onset of symptoms being critical in the drugs’ effectiveness.

While pharmacists have welcomed their expanded role, physicians have been resistant. The America Medical Association announced last year that it had helped defeat over 100 legislative actions aimed at broadening nonphysicians’ scope of practice over the last few years. And the group issued a statement last month saying the Biden administration’s test-to-treat program “flaunts patient safety and risks significant negative health outcomes.” (KAISER HEALTH NEWS, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION)

High Hopes for Wastewater Surveillance

Wastewater surveillance isn’t new, but the pandemic has taken it to a whole new level, and some public health officials are saying it should become standard practice in tracking not just COVID-19 but other infectious diseases like the flu.

Wastewater isn’t subject to the vagaries of coronavirus testing, such as test shortages and unreported results of at-home tests. Wastewater surveillance has its own limitations, however. It only shows percentage changes in the detection of a virus. And although there are hundreds of sites in three-fourths of the states, the data in many places is sparse, particularly in poorer areas. (KAISER HEALTH NEWS)

MN Surpasses Nursing Assistant Recruitment Goal

Minnesota exceeded its goal of recruiting 1,000 nursing assistant trainees, with 1,200 people already having signed up for the program, which covers the cost of tuition, textbooks and examinations. Using American Rescue Plan money, the state launched the recruitment program in January. Gov. Tim Walz’s (DFL) proposed budget includes $6.7 million to continue the program. (WCCO [MINNEAPOLIS])

Audit Uncovers Fraudulent Hospice Activity in LA County

A state audit found that the number of hospice agencies in Los Angeles County has increased by 1,500 percent since 2010, while the area’s senior population grew by only 40 percent over the same period, resulting in a hospice agency-to-aged-population ratio over six times higher than the national average. The audit also uncovered indications of large-scale fraud, including fraudulent Medicare and Medi-Cal billing. (FIERCE HEALTHCARE, AUDITOR OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA)

SC House Committee Advances Abortion Reversal Bill

South Carolina’s GOP-dominated House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill (HB 3163) last week that would require abortion providers to inform patients having chemical abortions that the process is reversible via a type of progesterone therapy, which Democrats say is unsafe and unproven. The bill was fast-tracked in the House after a similar proposal got held up in the Senate. (POST AND COURIER [CHARLESTON])

CVS Reaches Opioid Settlement with FL

CVS Health has agreed to pay Florida $484 million to settle claims associated with opioid prescriptions filled at its pharmacies. The settlement, which resolves claims dating back over a decade, will be paid over the next 18 years. (FIERCE HEALTH)

U.S. House Passes Insulin Pay Cap

The U.S. House passed The Affordable Insulin Now Act (HR 6833) last week, which would limit the out-of-pocket cost of insulin to $35 per month for Medicare Part D beneficiaries and for some individual and group plans. The Senate is working on an alternative proposal that could include other changes. (FIERCE HEALTHCARE, STATE NET)

U.S. Healthcare Spending to Slow

Actuaries for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have projected that after a 9.7-percent pandemic-fueled jump between 2019 and 2020, from $3.8 trillion to $4.1 trillion, U.S. healthcare spending will grow at about the rate of inflation over the rest of the decade. But that forecast is contingent on there being no more big surprises with the virus. (AXIOS)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

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