Pharmacy News

Pharmacy deserts result in poor health for some rural areas

LANSING – Sgt. Sheila Peters, the Alger County emergency management deputy director, has lived in her Upper Peninsula county her whole life. She said a 45-minute drive to the closest pharmacy isn’t unusual. 

That’s because Peters lives in a pharmacy desert, defined as being more than a 10-mile drive from the nearest drug store.

And in the winter, Peters said, U.P. roads can be especially treacherous, which makes the drive for medicine that much more difficult. 

In Burt Township in Alger County, the nearest pharmacy is 39 miles away, one of the furthest drives to a pharmacy in Michigan, according to a map from Cardinal Health.

Among the state’s 230-plus pharmacy deserts are Ransom Township in Hillsdale County, Whitefish Township in Chippewa County, Montmorency Township in Montmorency County, Powell Township in Marquette County, Norwich Township in Missaukee County, Lovells Township in Crawford County, Nottawa Township in Clare County, Lee Township in Allegan County and Norman Township in Manistee County. 

The term “pharmacy desert” can be traced back to a 2014 publication by Dima Qato, a pharmacy professor at the University of Southern California.

Heather Christensen, the president of the Michigan Pharmacists Association, said some state residents have to drive more than an hour to get to a pharmacy. 

Drug stores provide more than just medicine though: They provide clinics, measure blood pressure and test for diseases such as the flu and COVID-19. 

Even with the government sending vaccines to pharmacies in rural areas, there are still communities that aren’t able to get them.

The existence of a pharmacy desert “pretty much goes hand-in-hand that you’re not having primary care,” Christensen said.

If people can’t get to a pharmacy, they might not start taking necessary medications, she said, although since the pandemic began, some pharmacies have started mailing medicines.

The rules for pharmacies have changed slightly so medications can be refilled without seeing a provider, and some medications can be mailed that couldn’t have been mailed before.

Christensen said it can be difficult for pharmacies, as businesses, to make a profit in a rural area. 

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Posted in: MPA in the News
PBM Reform Advancing in Michigan with House Passage of HB 4348

NCPA, MPA urge Senate, Gov. Whitmer to swiftly finalize state’s first PBM regulation

LANSING, Mich. (March 24, 2021) — The Michigan Pharmacists Association and the National Community Pharmacists Association applaud passage of Michigan House Bill 4348 by the state’s House of Representatives in a vote of 97-10. This legislation, introduced by Rep. Julie Calley, would provide much-needed pharmacy benefit manager reforms, which are lacking in Michigan. PBMs are threatening access to community pharmacies and increasing health care costs for patients and plan sponsors in Michigan. The bill had passed the Health Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Bronna Kahle, in a vote of 18-1, and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“PBMs, which dictate how patients get their prescriptions and how much they pay, spent years operating in the shadows and manipulating the complicated health care system to fleece patients, taxpayers, and pharmacies,” said MPA CEO Mark Glasper. “Thankfully, their tactics are being uncovered and restricted in states across the country. Michigan must rein them in too.

“House Speaker Jason Wentworth was a driving force behind this legislation,” Glasper said. “MPA has been educating and working with the speaker for the past four years on the tactics that PBMs use in his state and across the country. His leadership and the strong support of the Michigan House of Representatives for HB 4348 have been integral to the bill’s passage. The Senate and Gov. Whitmer should quickly approve House Bill 4348 to provide patients and local pharmacies with the relief they need.”

House Bill 4348 would prohibit PBMs from reimbursing pharmacies affiliated with the PBM more than non-affiliate pharmacies; prohibit patient steering to PBM-owned pharmacies; prohibit retroactive clawbacks; require reimbursements be based on the National Average Drug Acquisition Cost, an objective benchmark that accurately reflects the true market costs for Michigan pharmacies; and establish fair audit procedures for community pharmacies.

“The majority of states have laws on the books to curb drug costs by regulating PBMs, whether by outlawing patient steering, requiring the PBM to be licensed by the state, banning gag clauses or through other reforms,” said Anne Cassity, NCPA Vice President of Federal and State Government Affairs. “Independent neighborhood pharmacies and their patients are eager to see Michigan implement PBM regulations as well. We’re grateful to Reps. Calley and Kahle, to Speaker Wentworth, and to their colleagues for joining them in supporting this important legislation.”

Click here for NCPA's letter in support of House Bill 4348.

Posted in: MPA Press Releases
Local pharmacy, nonprofits bring 2,500 vaccine doses to underserved Kalamazoo County neighborhoods

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — As vaccinations ramp up, health officials are working hard to make sure they're available to the hardest hit communities: people of color.

There are over 785 people signed up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine in Kalamazoo's Northside neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday.

It is all made possible by a pharmacy in Portage who secured 2,500 doses that the state was working to distribute to underserved populations.

"With every vaccine, one life is saved. It is not just one life, it is the whole family because it affects all of us. It says ‘love thy neighbor’, and so this is the neighborhood we are in," said Arun Tandon, Michigan Pharmacists Association member and the owner of Advanced Health Pharmacy in Portage.

With more than one million Michiganders fully vaccinated and counting, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is putting a focus on getting vaccines to the underserved populations.

Just last week, Advanced Pharmacy applied with the state for the 2,500 doses.

"They were trying to reach out to people who don’t have access to healthcare. They might not have transportation. They might have language barrier. They wanted to offer vaccines to those areas," said Tandon.

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Posted in: MPA in the News
Marketers adjust to pharmacist’s expanded role in COVID-19 era

When COVID-19 forced the shutdown of doctors’ offices across the country last spring, community pharmacies remained open — and pharmacists stepped up, taking on more patient counseling, immunizations and testing. And as COVID-19 vaccines have become more widely available, pharmacies — and pharmacists — have played a critical role in their distribution.

“Society is realizing that pharmacies are literally saving the world with immunizations,” notes Scott Knoer, CEO of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA). “The access point of the community pharmacy is very significant.” 

The medical marketing community has finally taken notice. While pharmacists have long been an important audience, their increasing responsibilities and rising profile as healthcare providers have made them an even more crucial group for marketers to reach, not to mention busier than ever before.

The resulting shift has prompted marketers to experiment with new channels as they try to cut through the noise. As they do so, questions have emerged as to whether pharmacists’ expanded scope of care, and subsequent increase in contact with patients, will outlast the current crisis. Either way, many consumers are unlikely to ever again view their local chain pharmacy as a mere convenient destination for M&M’s and paper towels. 

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Posted in: Professional Practice
Overworked, understaffed: Pharmacists say industry in crisis puts patient safety at risk

From the moment Marilyn Jerominski walks into her pharmacy every morning, her time is in demand. As pharmacy manager of a busy 24-hour Walgreens in Palm Desert, California, she is responsible for the safety and accuracy of the thousands of prescriptions the store dispenses every week.

"There's so much stress," Jerominski said. "You're not only running to the drive-thru but to the front, to the vaccination station to give a vaccination, then to the phone. ... It's almost impossible for any human to keep that momentum day in and out."

It wasn't always that way. When she began working as a pharmacist 13 years ago, it was a very different environment, Jerominski said. There were more staff members and more time to counsel patients about their medications. These days, she is exhausted and often overwhelmed, worried about making a mistake when someone's health is on the line. She is far from alone.

Jerominski is one of an estimated 155,000 pharmacists working at chain drugstores who, over the past decade, have found themselves pushed to do more with less. They're working faster, filling more orders and juggling a wider range of tasks with fewer staff members at a pace that many say is unsustainable and jeopardizes patient safety. Now Covid-19 vaccinations are raising new concerns about what will happen if they aren't given enough additional support for yet another responsibility.

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Posted in: Professional Practice
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