By Dr. Ben Mudd
Every day, pharmacists across the commonwealth step up to promote a healthy Kentucky. And that involves so much more than filling medications and sending patients on their way. Kentucky pharmacists have always been committed to expanding access to high quality care, encouraging vaccinations and meeting our patients’ needs. Throughout the pandemic, that commitment has only grown stronger.
Pharmacists and pharmacy staff serve as the backbone of our health care system and play a vital role in protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of our community members. With October being American Pharmacists Month, now is a great time to reflect on the important role pharmacists play in our communities and how they are addressing issues that impact Kentuckians’ access to care.
In many cases, pharmacists see and interact with their patients far more often than other providers. We form trusted, personal relationships with these individuals and their families, often serving as their first point of contact for medical and insurance-related questions. This is the most rewarding part of the job and the reason why my fellow pharmacists and I chose this career in the first place. We want to make positive difference in the lives of others.
Over the last year and a half, Kentucky pharmacists have answered the call to slow the spread of COVID-19. In the earliest days of the pandemic, while much of the world was shutting down, pharmacies kept their doors open to serve their communities.
Since then, pharmacists have played an integral role in increasing access to testing, and as lifesaving vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments have become available, we’ve helped get them out to patients in our cities and towns. Pharmacists and other health care providers have been working hard to educate Kentuckians on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and to address their questions and concerns one-on-one.
As of October 2021, Kentucky pharmacists have administered millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, which have undoubtedly helped to save lives and protect people from the virus’ most severe effects. To date, 2.4 million Kentuckians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19—proof that these educational efforts are indeed working.
Many pharmacists have also used these conversations to remind their patients about other recommended immunizations they may need, such as the flu shot. All the while, we’ve continued meeting our patients’ many other health care needs.
But our industry is facing major challenges right now. And if left unaddressed, these issues will only continue to negatively impact our ability to deliver the timely, personalized care our patients deserve and expect.
Like many other businesses across the country, pharmacies of all types and sizes are experiencing significant workforce shortages. Our staffing crisis, however, is due in large part to increasing administrative burdens and unrealistic quotas placed on pharmacists and pharmacy staff by large corporate employers. All this is contributing to an alarming rise in health care worker burnout, which is driving many to take their skills and expertise elsewhere.
On top of this, pharmacists are still struggling with the harmful and arbitrary actions of profit-driven pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). The lack of transparency in the drug pricing system has allowed PBMs and their insurance company partners to have a heavy hand in determining what patients pay out-of-pocket for their prescriptions and which medications are available. And most times, these decisions don’t benefit the patient or the pharmacy dispensing the medication. In fact, patients sometimes end up paying more at the pharmacy counter because of PBMs’ pricing practices.
Back in 2020, the Kentucky General Assembly made great strides by passing Senate Bill 50, which established a single PBM and single formulary for our state’s managed Medicaid program. However, we must now hold PBMs accountable and ensure that all Kentuckians truly have affordable, barrier-free access to the medications they need to be healthy.
More than anything, pharmacists want to continue delivering the highly individualized patient care that drew so many of us into this profession to begin with. But we need to practice in an environment that allows us to do so.
Kentucky pharmacists are essential to a healthier and stronger Kentucky. By supporting our pharmacy community, we’re supporting better health outcomes for our entire state. After the last year and a half, that’s something all of us should be able to get behind.
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Dr. Ben Mudd is a pharmacist and executive director of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association (KPhA). Prior to joining KPhA, he spent most of his career in the community pharmacy setting.