Arlington, VA—In preliminary results from a new survey, U.S. adults generally agree that pharmacists should be able to test for COVID-19, prescribe COVID-19 antiviral medication based on a patient's full health profile, and offer that medication at pharmacies.

The survey, conducted by Morning Consult and commissioned by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), asked respondents to consider two potential actions related to COVID-19 antivirals:

1) If the United States was to allow pharmacists to prescribe COVID-19 antiviral medications; and

2) If the U.S. was to increase the reimbursement amount paid to pharmacies to fully cover the cost of providing COVID-19 antiviral medications. (The survey explained that the government previously had taken action to allow pharmacists to prescribe COVID-19 antiviral medications during the public health emergency, but that the antiviral medications' emergency use authorization did not include pharmacists among those who can prescribe them.)

Most respondents said that allowing pharmacists to prescribe—and increasing reimbursement to fully cover pharmacies' costs—would have a positive effect on COVID-19 hospitalizations, ability to find care for COVID symptoms, health equity, convenience of receiving care for COVID, and correct use of COVID antiviral medications.

In authorizing the use of the new antivirals, federal agencies decided to "encourage" but not require payment to pharmacists for testing, patient assessment, ordering/prescribing, and dispensing oral COVID-19 antiviral drugs.

The result was unacceptable, according to a letter from the National Association of Community Pharmacists (NCPA) to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.

"While the reimbursement rates that NCPA members have reported may be higher than the usual negotiated dispensing fees, they are still far below these pharmacies' cost to dispense," the NCPA wrote. "As of January 14, 2022, the highest enhanced dispensing fee reported is $10.50 with the low end being $1 by BlueCross Blue Shield;s PBM Prime Therapeutics. These fees are lower than the Professional Dispensing Fee in most state Medicaid programs. Even the $10.50 dispensing fee fails to cover the additional costs required to optimize beneficiary safety and effectiveness for these breakthrough treatments. This is astounding and extremely disappointing considering the U.S. government has paid over $700 per course of therapy for molnupiravir and over $500 per course of therapy for PAXLOVID."

In his article, NACDS President and CEO Steven C. Anderson pointed out that survey respondents gave pharmacies the highest ratings for ease of access among an array of healthcare destinations—including doctors, emergency rooms, nurses, primary care physicians, and specialist physicians. In fact, he noted that among sources for COVID-19 care, only hospitals got a higher rating than pharmacies on their response. Other entities listed included pharmaceutical companies, doctors' offices, and various government agencies.

Mr. Anderson also suggested, "The survey results may have implications for issues far beyond COVID antivirals—including efforts to sustain beyond the pandemic the authorities and flexibilities that have helped pharmacies serve Americans with such effectiveness."

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