By Andrew Wagner
The Iowa Caucuses have come and gone, but Iowans’ engagement in the issues important to our state and our people remain. Just as we are fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and ask presidential candidates questions, our elected federal officials constantly travel Iowa to meet with constituents. This lends us the opportunity to discuss the issues and challenges we encounter with the people who have the ability to help.
One fact that continues to resonate with Iowans is that many across the state are living in areas that lack local medical care and services. In fact, 44 percent of Iowans are considered medically underserved. As a student pharmacist studying and working to make a difference in this field, this fact concerns me, and I believe we can do better.
Iowans seized the opportunity at town hall meetings to make sure candidates, particularly those who are current U.S. Senators, aware of this issue. Fortunately, our own Sen. Chuck Grassley has taken initiative in sponsoring legislation that takes aim at this problem. The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (H.R. 592/ S. 314) is bipartisan legislation that allows pharmacists to be designated as non-physician providers and be reimbursed under Medicare part B. Grassley has been joined by Sen. Joni Ernst, who signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation. This legislation has the potential to enable me and thousands of other pharmacists across the state to fully utilize our clinical education to help the many seniors who need care in rural areas.
Pharmacists play an integral role in a patient’s health care team. For individuals with chronic illnesses, patients see their pharmacist far more frequently than their physician. This bill empowers pharmacists to take a more involved approach to patient care and be compensated for their services — including chronic disease management and administering of vaccines.
Seventy-two of Iowa’s 99 counties are considered medically underserved. We also have one of the highest populations of senior citizens, around 480,000. By taking a common sense approach and passing this bill, we can increase the services available in those rural and economically challenged areas and improve access to beneficial health services by empowering the 3,400 pharmacists in our state who are already trained for this type of care.
S.314 approaches this issue in a way that is also cost effective. That is particularly important given that older Americans do experience more chronic health problems than their younger counterparts, leading to increased overall health care costs. As our national population ages, Medicare recipients are projected to grow from 50 million to 80 million over the next 20 years. Utilizing our nation’s pharmacists, a resource which is already available, and taking a cost effective approach will be critical to control rapid inflation of Medicare and health care costs in general.
With both Republican and Democrat sponsors, this bill is indeed a bipartisan solution to a critical problem. Despite the bipartisan support, we still need further support to advance the bill in the legislative process. While the nation may be focused on the election season, important legislation still needs to move forward.
Grassley has continued to listen to the needs of Iowans to address the issues we face every day. His continued support for this bill demonstrates his commitment to make the lives of Iowans better.
This bill needs to advance through Congress so it can be signed into law by our president. By the time I graduate with my Doctor of Pharmacy, I hope to have the ability to help improve the lives of fellow Iowans in underserved areas. When passed, this act will increase the health outcomes of our medically underserved Iowans, control health care costs, and utilize pharmacists’ clinical education in the full capacity in which we are trained.
Andrew Wagner is a third-year pharmacy student at Drake University and is from Eagle Grove. He has worked at Eagle Grove Pharmacy for the past 7 years.