More Pharmacy Covid Testing Backed by White House, Republicans

Pharmacists pushing to get paid by Medicare for Covid-19 testing have gained key congressional allies but say they face opposition from the country’s top doctors lobby.

Congressional leaders and the White House support altering Medicare rules to allow reimbursements for pharmacists who administer Covid-19 tests and a potential future vaccine, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), the lead sponsor of the change, said Wednesday. Changing Medicare’s rules about who gets paid for delivering a Covid test would make it easier for people to get them, he said.

“We all understand that to roll out our economy and get our people back into public and to work it’s going to include robust testing,” Carter, a pharmacist who started his own independent pharmacy in south Georgia, said.

Groups that support the change, however, say the American Medical Association, the country’s largest industry group for doctors, opposes it over concerns about altering Medicare’s scope-of-practice rules.

(Photo: Joel Angel Juarez/Bloomberg)
A resident deposits a testing kit at a drive-thru CVS Health Corp. Covid-19 testing facility in El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

“Congress must not give the AMA veto power again over a policy needed to provide our patients and communities ready access to the COVID testing services they need,” Steven C. Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, said in a statement.

An AMA spokesman said the group is reviewing the legislative language but declined to comment further.

Test Result Delays

Carter acknowledged that giving pharmacists more opportunities to do testing won’t solve the issue many states with rising Covid-19 cases face with slow test results. Some states are seeing delays longer than a week in turning around tests.

The Health and Human Services Department has already set up partnerships with pharmacies and retail companies such as CVS Health Corp., Kroger Co., Rite Aid Corp., and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. to get testing sites at their locations.

However, Carter said, that accounts for about 20% of all pharmacies.

“We need 100% of pharmacies to be able to provide these tests,” he said.

Small and independent pharmacies have been largely left out of these partnerships, and altering Medicare’s payment rules could give the entire industry the opportunity to offer the tests, even after the partnership deals expire, Ronna Hauser, vice president of policy and government affairs operations for the National Community Pharmacists Association, said.

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, supports opening up payments to pharmacists, Michael Zona, a spokesman for Grassley, said.

“Patients need professionals practicing to the full extent that their state license allows, especially as we get closer to the start of the flu season, which will only compound the pressure the coronavirus is placing on the health care system,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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