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Enhancing Medical Care in the coming age of doctor shortages

State Rep. David Derby
State Rep. David Derby

To The Editor:

Baby Boomers have always had a huge impact on American society and economics, and that continues to be the case as this generation moves into retirement.

For example, the number of Medicare beneficiaries is increasing by about three percent each year, and will reach 73 million by 2025. At the same time, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of as many as 90,000 doctors nationwide by 2025.  Creative thinking about health care delivery is essential if seniors are to continue to have access to the health care services they need.

Fortunately, this type of creative thinking is close at hand.

A bipartisan group in Congress has come together to support an innovative proposal to improve seniors’ access to care.  The legislation, known as the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, would make greater use of our nation’s pharmacists in delivering health services for seniors in areas where there is a shortage of primary care providers.

At a time when provider shortages are forcing more and more seniors to wait long periods of time for an appointment with their doctor, or to travel longer distances to see the doctor, this legislation makes sense.

After all, pharmacists are equipped to help seniors with many of their health care needs, including:

•    Immunizations: All 50 states permit pharmacists to administer the seasonal flu vaccine, and many are expanding that authority to include pneumonia, shingles and other vaccines as well.

•    Health screenings and tests: Pharmacists are qualified to administer cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure, bone density and other health tests.

•    Chronic disease management: Today’s seniors are living longer than previous generations, but often suffer from chronic health conditions that require continuous treatment. Nearly 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease, and half have two or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Managing these conditions often requires the use of medications.  Pharmacists play a crucial role in ensuring that patients take these medications properly, on time, and to the greatest benefit.

A big advantage to using pharmacists to provide more patient care services is convenience.  Pharmacists are often a person’s most accessible health care professional.  Most Americans—95%—live within five miles of a community pharmacy. And the average senior in Oklahoma fills 26 prescriptions per year at a retail pharmacy, presenting numerous opportunities for them to obtain additional health services.

At last check, the House version of the bill, H.R. 592, had 149 co-sponsors, and the Senate version, S. 314, had 20.  This is not a partisan issue.  There is strong support from members of both political parties.

Co-sponsors of this legislation wisely recognize that we must develop new strategies to meet the health care needs of seniors. Congress should take advantage of the bipartisan momentum behind this legislation and enact it this year.

State Rep. David Derby

David Derby, a Republican, represents the people of District 74 (Tulsa and Rogers Counties) in the Oklahoma State Legislature.

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