• 59°

Sasser wants pharmacists to be able to test for COVID-19

By Liz Moomey

N.C. Rep. Wayne Sasser (R-Stanly) detailed the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the pharmacy industry business model at Tuesday’s Health Care Working Group meeting.

The working group, which is one of four in the House Select Committee on COVID-19, has been hearing from experts across the healthcare profession.

Sasser, a pharmacist, said pharmacists have been determined to be essential health care providers under every federal and state emergency declaration. A pharmacist’s first priority is the health and safety of patients, he said. And he advocated for pharmacists being able to test people for COVID-19 with a drive-through, similar to a program implemented in Texas, saying they drug stores are often the most accessible health care providers.

“Pharmacists have an important role to play during the stage of COVID-19,” Sasser said.

He said it is imperative North Carolina pass legislation to allow pharmacists to implement programs to test for COVID-19 and administer vaccines.

Sasser said conversations need to start about the best way to improve survival rates among people with chronic illnesses, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and smoking. He said collaborative practice agreements between doctors and pharmacists have been successful in increasing the health of those patients.

Sasser said there were some drug shortages and price increases as the COVID-19 outbreak started, but the drug supply chain is stable, including for trial medications hospitals are using.

He said eventually he would like to see personal protective equipment manufacturers and generic drug manufacturers return to the United States.

N.C. Rep. Gale Adcock during the meeting asked pharmacists for a wish list that the committee should address in the bill.

Penny Shelton, the executive director of the N.C. Association of Pharmacists, listed the suspension of audits during the emergency, a waiver to cover medicine delivery fees, scaling up the ability of antibody testing across North Carolina and proving protective equipment for pharmacists and their technicians.

Raleigh’s Person Street Pharmacy pharmacist Mike James said legislators need to craft language to allow for mailed prescriptions, which is needed in cases like the current pandemic. It should also be allowed on a regular basis, James said.

Dr. Roxie Wells, president of the Cape Fear Vealey Hoke Hospital, said committee members need to work in a “proactive, decisive and swift” way to ensure the future of rural hospitals.

Wells said some rural hospitals were already in peril. Those that had small, positive margins of revenue are now in the red since there are no longer scheduled surgeries.

Wells offered that rural hospitals could be used for non-COVID medical care and low-level COVID treatment.

“I do believe that proactive, decisive and swift action to secure the financial solvency now will be the preverbal shot in the arm that will ensure the future success of rural hospitals,” Wells said.

Rep. Perrin Jones, a doctor, said he has been thinking a lot about ways to restart non-essential procedures. Doing so needs to be a combination of appropriate pre-procedural testing, the acquisition of protective equipment for health care workers and patient selection, Jones said.

“I believe we have done a very good job of flattening the curve, however, I think we really need to start making plans for our economy and our health care economy post-COVID,” Jones said. “The money that is generated by a lot of these procedures goes a long way toward securing the bottom line for not only rural hospitals but hospitals in general.”

The working group members also heard about the impact of COVID-19 on the delivery of behavior health and intellectual and developmental disabilities services from Kody Kinsley, a deputy secretary with the Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Sy Saeed, the director of N.C. Statewide Telepsychiatry Program, along with Cornell Wright, the director of the Minority Health and Health Disparities, and Ken Lewis, the executive director of N.C. Association of Health Plans.

The Economic Support Working Group also met Tuesday to discuss the COVID-19 Response Act – Economic Support.

Rep. Julia Howard, R-77, who is a chairwoman, asked committee members to consider combining proposed bills into one to allow for one vote. The bill includes waiving the accrual of interest on individual income tax and corporate income and franchise tax returns to July 15, affirms flexibility in administering the unemployment insurance benefits and allows an employer to file for unemployment on behalf of the employee.

The group will vote on Tuesday.

Liz Moomey is a reporter for The Salisbury Post. Email her at liz.moomey@salisburypost.com.