In an effort to raise awareness about the services pharmacists provide, University of New Mexico (UNM) Pharmacy students donning crisp white coats conducted health screenings for community members, legislators, lobbyists and other passersby on the ground floor of the New Mexico State Capitol on Monday.
Pharmacists are currently allowed to provide clinical services including blood pressure checks, immunizations, hormonal contraception, tobacco cessation and tuberculosis testing however, unlike doctors or nurses, they can’t bill for these services.
Given this, a group of UNM students has organized an effort to make their future careers more appealing.
“House Bill 42 (HB 42) would allow us to get reimbursed for our clinical services under Medicaid and commercial insurance plans,” said Miel Johnson, a third-year student pharmacist and the chair of the UNM student organization of the American Pharmacist Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP).
According to a 2014 Canadian study, pharmacists are less likely to offer these types of services because they “often consider the fees to be insufficient, considering the time required to provide patient care.”
This also comes at a time when New Mexico, especially our rural and underserved areas, is experiencing a physician shortage.
“We have a much older population with a stagnant birth rate, so demand for more intense medical care as we all age will increase. At the same time, the average age of physicians in New Mexico is much higher than the rest of the country. We know we have a doctor shortage and that it will only get worse,” said Paul Roth, Chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center in an October interview with the ABQ Journal.
Donald Godwin, the UNM College of Pharmacy Dean, told the Daily Lobo in an email that the, “provision of these clinical services would increase access to health care throughout New Mexico, particularly in underserved communities, and (would) lead to improved patient outcomes while lowering overall healthcare costs.”
HB 42 was heard in its first committee on Monday. A cadre of student pharmacists attended the hearing in order to stand in support of the bill. The bill passed (5-2-0) with Reps. Gail Armstrong (R) and Greg Schmedes (R) voting against.
The pharmacy students said that of those that attended the hearing, only lobbyists from commercial insurance companies spoke against the bill.
Health and Human Services Committee Chair Debra Armstrong (D) said the insurance companies expressed concerns about potential additional costs of reimbursing pharmacists.
Armstrong explained that for the, “patients that are already getting care from their primary care provider, shifting the reimbursement to the pharmacist would not incur any additional costs to insurance companies.”
It is likely that Governor Lujan Grisham agrees. Nora Sacket, the governor’s spokesperson said, “the governor is clear that pharmacists are an integral part of the comprehensive health care system and supports their being appropriately compensated.”
The Governor placed this bill on her message this year, allowing the legislature to take it up during what is otherwise a budget-focused session.
According to Johnson, the student pharmacists conducted “over 80 atrial fibrillation screenings, and even more blood glucose, blood cholesterol and blood pressure screenings” throughout their day in the Roundhouse.
Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @lissaknudesen