In our last 2 issues, I focused on the turbulent times of health insurance coverage and the enormous impact it would have on the retail pharmacy landscape and the consumer. Indeed, the predicted difficulties did, in fact, happen.
Many consumers faced January 1 with major changes in their health insurance. They either lost coverage; gained coverage, but were forced to deal with high-deductible health plan costs; or signed up for health insurance through the public health exchanges, only to find they had no insurance cards to prove their coverage.
Enter the retail pharmacists to the rescue. In the midst of insurance coverage chaos—with some consumers unable to provide new insurance cards—retail pharmacists, from large chains to independents, put the health and well-being of their patients first and provided the necessary prescription medicines. With the finger-pointing, botched website launches, security issues, and, of course, enrollment issues surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, it would have been easy to “pass the buck” and let others deal with the proof-of-insurance issue. However, pharmacists across the country did their best to ensure that patients did not experience a gap in their prescription medications.
This action is nothing new in the retail pharmacy world. When sweeping changes came along with the new Medicare Part D program, retail pharmacists were there to assist seniors to make the transition as smooth as possible. B. Douglas Hoey, CEO, National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), stated that “During the 2006 implementation of the Medicare Part D drug benefit, community pharmacists helped patients with emergency supplies thousands of times. A 2006 survey of over 500 independent community pharmacists found that more than half (58%) provided 50 or more emergency supplies to seniors during the early days of Part D.”
The annual January process today for seniors, as well as anyone else who has a change in healthcare insurance, faces the potential of prescriptions hitting the “black hole” of ambiguity and the chance of noncoverage. However, for those who signed up through the public health exchanges, this year is definitely an anomaly in the usual January transition. Many consumers signed up—or at least thought they signed up—for healthcare insurance through the public health exchanges. However, major issues have surfaced around consumers not having identification cards from their new insurance plans in time for their next prescription refill. Yet, from Rite Aid, Kroger, Walmart, and Walgreens to the NCPA (representing the independent community pharmacist), all have joined together with a common purpose: to assist patients with their normal prescriptions and provide emergency prescription fills for up to a 30-day supply, with no upfront cost. “Every pharmacist knows how important it is for people to take their medications as prescribed, without any interruption,” Robert Thompson, Executive Vice President, Rite Aid, stated.
Adherence rates for prescription medicine in this country already suffer. We do not need a breakdown in the healthcare system to further exacerbate this problem. To that end, I applaud the proactive stance that retail pharmacists across the country have taken. They are answering health plan coverage questions and providing prescription fills to keep patients adherent to their medications while websites get fixed and identification cards continue to get mailed out. In addition, Walgreens should be commended on recently announcing the extension of its program through April 15, since the public health insurance marketplace open enrollment deadline is March 31. I am sure other retailers will follow suit. The normal January 1-month transition has now become the “new normal” 4-month transition, at least for 2014. Next year could be a whole new story.
At Inside Pharmacy, we encourage and promote retail pharmacists to “come from behind the counter” and engage their patients and customers. In this case, not only did retail pharmacists accomplish this action, they definitely stepped up to the plate! Maybe that’s why pharmacists are highly rated when it comes to patient satisfaction and, above all, trust.