Home

Enhance and Expand Access to Vaccines

September 16, 2020
3:09 pm

With progress continuing on development of a vaccine for COVID-19, conversations are taking place over the best strategies for distributing a vaccine, once approved, to millions of Americans.  In the post below, two executives from Pfizer – one of the companies involved in coronavirus vaccine development – point out that local pharmacies are a logical vaccination site, but that will also require harmonization of state laws that affect the roles of pharmacists in providing care.

Enhance and Expand Access to Vaccines

By:

Robert Popovian, Pharm.D., MS, Vice-President US Government Relations, Pfizer Inc.

Dave Hering, Regional President, North America, for Pfizer Vaccines.

It was not so long ago, and certainly within the memory of many older Americans, when the fear and uncertainty we are experiencing today with coronavirus were much more common. Before the advent of vaccines for a vast number of diseases, it was not uncommon for people to know friends and family members who had contracted measles, mumps, rubella or polio. Families routinely had to deal with the impact of these diseases on everyday life and, more significantly, manage life-long disabilities like loss of vision, hearing or mobility.

There are scores of studies on the positive impact that vaccination has had on public health. In addition, vaccines are one of the most cost-beneficial interventions in health care. It is estimated that caring for unvaccinated adults costs the U.S. health care system approximately $7 billion per year.

Vaccination rates in the United States for most serious ailments are in the 90th percentile for children, while for adults, the immunization rates are abysmal. For example, less than 50 percent of adults age 19 and older get a flu shot every year. What’s even more alarming is that for adult patients between the ages of 18 and 65 with risk factors (e.g., patients with asthma or chronic bronchitis or smoking history), the rate of pneumococcal vaccination is only 23 percent. Both measures are well below the Healthy 2020 targets set by the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

One approach to encourage adult vaccination is to further expand the ability of community-based pharmacists to administer vaccines. Patients and health systems have benefited most when pharmacists are allowed to immunize patients.

Roughly 9 out of 10 Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy that provides vaccination services to patients without an appointment. Community pharmacies offer extended hours of service compared to other sites-of-care, which is especially important for younger, healthier adults for whom immunization rates are exceptionally low.

Also, the evidence is clear that allowing pharmacists to administer vaccines is the lowest-cost alternative for providing this essential public health service. For the most vulnerable adults, our seniors, there may be additional access issues because a majority of family physicians either aren’t stocking or are unable to bill for all available vaccines, especially those reimbursed under Medicare Part D.

Unfortunately, there are significant variations in state laws governing pharmacists’ ability to immunize patients. States that have more restrictions on pharmacists’ ability to provide vaccinations may negatively affect public health and increase health care costs. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for states to expand and harmonize state laws governing pharmacist authority to immunize and allow pharmacists to administer all Food and Drug Administration-approved and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended adult vaccines.

The recent guidance from Health and Human Services (HHS) allows pharmacists to administer any COVID-19 vaccine, which is FDA-authorized or FDA-licensed, is a step in the right direction. However, the HHS direction under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) is time-limited and mandates that it be based on ACIP recommendation.

Reducing vaccine-preventable disease prevalence and overall health care costs is critical for all Americans. The best way to achieve both goals is through increased vaccination of adults in the United States, particularly at the pharmacy. Policymakers must take the important step of implementing state laws to expand pharmacists’ immunization authority for adults, so we are better prepared if and when the next public health crisis occurs.

On the Precipice of a Major Stride in Healthcare Progress

August 13, 2020
4:49 pm

It actually seems elementary when you think about it.  To deliver the best possible and most cost-efficient care to patients, particularly those with complex chronic conditions, it is essential for all aspects of the healthcare system – primary care physicians, specialists, hospitals, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, pharmacies, and others – to work together to coordinate patient care and deliver comprehensive treatment.

Currently, however, our federal laws and regulations prevent that type of patient-centered collaboration.  Measures known as the Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback Statute were created in the era of fee-for-service medicine to prevent bad actors from acting in ways adverse to a patient’s interests in order to gain some sort of financial benefit.  In our current transition to holistic value-based care, though, these fraud and abuse safeguards are serving as daunting legal barriers to the kind of working relationships that deliver optimal health outcomes.

We are hopeful this is on the verge of changing.  The Department of Health and Human Services has developed, with extensive public input, new rules to modernize these outdated laws and regulations and create opportunities for healthcare professionals and organizations to collaborate without fear of legal reprisal.  There will still be more than adequate protections against fraud and abuse, but the obstacles to patient-centered, value-based care will be significantly alleviated.

These new rules were submitted by HHS to the Office of Management and Budget for final review and approval last month. The Healthcare Leadership Council is one of more than 120 healthcare companies, associations, and patient advocacy groups that has asked President Trump to intervene and bring this critical work across the regulatory finish line.

As the letter to the president puts it, with the finalization of these rules “victory can be claimed in the name of helping get better coordinated care and reducing overall healthcare costs.”  We don’t see any reason to wait to begin reaping these benefits.

The Meaning of Personalized Healthcare

July 10, 2020
10:47 am

Personalized medicine is one of the very popular buzzphrases in healthcare, but not everyone has a complete understanding of what personalized healthcare means for patients, the healthcare system and the future of medicine.  HLC member Genentech has provided an important service by describing this branch of medical science and its potential in recently-published sponsored content in Politico.

In the Politico piece, Dr. Mark Lee, Global Head of Personalized Health Care, Product Development for Roche and Genentech describes personalized medicine succinctly, “Scientific and technological advancements are allowing us to leverage the vast amounts of data that we can access to help patients receive the right treatment at the right time.  Not every patient responds the same way, and it is incredibly challenging to predict who’s going to benefit from which medicine and how.  But there is now more data per patient than ever before, allowing us to hone in on the subtle differences that make each of us unique to deliver more personalized treatments that can yield better outcomes.”

As Dr. Lee points out, in addition to improving care at the patient level, having this detailed information about patients of different ages, ethnicities, genetic backgrounds and health conditions will transform and strengthen clinical trials and drug development in years to come.

I highly recommend this content in Politico to gain a greater understanding of how personalized medicine will change care delivery in the foreseeable future.

Nonessential Care Is Essential

June 16, 2020
12:18 pm

An op-ed appeared in the New York Times entitled, “How Many More Will Die From Fear of the Coronavirus?”  Written by Cleveland Clinic chief executive and president Dr. Tomislav Mihaljevic and Mayo Clinic chief executive and president Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, the message is clear: the longer people avoid healthcare settings and ignore nonessential care, the more people will die preventable deaths.  These two well-respected leaders have made the case for people to return to their doctors with the reassurance that providers have transformed their work environments and are ready to treat people with Covid-19 precautions in place.  The “new normal” is here and may be around to stay for some time.  The full op-ed is available here.

 

Seriously ill people avoided hospitals and doctors’ offices. Patients need to return. It’s safe now.

By Tomislav Mihaljevic and Gianrico Farrugia

More than 100,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. Beyond those deaths are other casualties of the pandemic — Americans seriously ill with other ailments who avoided care because they feared contracting the coronavirus at hospitals and clinics.

The toll from their deaths may be close to the toll from Covid-19. The trends are clear and concerning. Government orders to shelter in place and health care leaders’ decisions to defer nonessential care successfully prevented the spread of the virus. But these policies — complicated by the loss of employer-provided health insurance as people lost their jobs — have had the unintended effect of delaying care for some of our sickest patients.

To prevent further harm, people with serious, complex and acute illnesses must now return to the doctor for care.

Across the country, we have seen sizable decreases in new cancer diagnoses (45 percent) and reports of heart attacks (38 percent) and strokes (30 percent). Visits to hospital emergency departments are down by as much as 40 percent, but measures of how sick emergency department patients are have risen by 20 percent, according to a Mayo Clinic study, suggesting how harmful the delay can be. Meanwhile, non-Covid-19 out-of-hospital deaths have increased, while in-hospital mortality has declined.

These statistics demonstrate that people with cancer are missing necessary screenings, and those with heart attack or stroke symptoms are staying home during the precious window of time when the damage is reversible. In fact, a recent poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians and Morning Consult found that 80 percent of Americans say they are concerned about contracting the coronavirus from visiting the emergency room.

Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed grievous outcomes as a result of these delays. Recently, a middle-aged patient with abdominal pain waited five days to come to a Mayo Clinic emergency department for help, before dying of a bowel obstruction. Similarly, a young woman delayed care for weeks out of a fear of Covid-19 before she was transferred to a Cleveland Clinic intensive care unit with undiagnosed leukemia. She died within weeks of her symptoms appearing. Both deaths were preventable.

The true cost of this epidemic will not be measured in dollars; it will be measured in human lives and human suffering. In the case of cancer alone, our calculations show we can expect a quarter of a million additional preventable deaths annually if normal care does not resume. Outcomes will be similar for those who forgo treatment for heart attacks and strokes.

Over the past 12 weeks, hospitals deferred nonessential care to prevent viral spread, conserve much-needed personal protective equipment and create capacity for an expected surge of Covid-19 patients. During that time, we also have adopted methods to care for all patients safely, including standard daily screenings for the staff and masking protocols for patients and the staff in the hospital and clinic. At this point, we are gradually returning to normal activities while also mitigating risk for both patients and staff members.

The Covid-19 crisis has changed the practice of medicine in fundamental ways in just a matter of months. Telemedicine, for instance, allowed us to pivot quickly from in-person care to virtual care. We have continued to provide necessary care to our patients while promoting social distancing, reducing the risk of viral spread and recognizing patients’ fears.

Both Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic have gone from providing thousands of virtual visits per month before the pandemic to hundreds of thousands now across a broad range of demographics and conditions. At Cleveland Clinic, 94 percent of diabetes patients were cared for virtually in April.

While virtual visits are here to stay, there are obvious limitations. There is no substitute for in-person care for those who are severely ill or require early interventions for life-threatening conditions. Those are the ones who — even in the midst of this pandemic — must seek the care they need.

Patients who need care at a clinic or hospital or doctor’s office should know they have reduced the risk of Covid-19 through proven infection-control precautions under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’re taking unprecedented actions, such as restricting visiting hours, screening patient and caregiver temperatures at entrances, encouraging employees to work from home whenever possible, providing spaces that allow for social distancing, and requiring proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette and masking.

All of these strategies are intended to significantly reduce risk while allowing for vital, high-quality care for our patients.

The novel coronavirus will not go away soon, but its systemic side effects of fear and deferred care must.

We will continue to give vigilant attention to Covid-19 while urgently addressing the other deadly diseases that haven’t taken a pause during the pandemic. For patients with medical conditions that require in-person care, please allow us to safely care for you — do not delay. Lives depend on it.

Guest Post: The Underutilization of Prevention

March 12, 2020
11:50 am

Robert Popovian is Vice President of U.S. Government Relations at Pfizer

One of the most underutilized ways to reduce medical costs in the U.S. is health care prevention. Unfortunately, politicians choose instead to implement draconian policies such as price controls or utilization management, which focus solely on cost management without any consideration given to patient outcomes or the value of an intervention to society.

The reason policymakers promote these types of measures is twofold. One, these policies are simple to implement and two, they reach their intended results quickly by reducing budgets, whether it be hospital costs or drug expenditures. On the other hand, promotion of preventative measures are complicated and challenging to implement and are thus ignored, despite the fact that the data show that such measures lead to better patient outcomes, including improvements in quality of life and productivity.

The two examples of preventative interventions that have not only shown to reduce costs but also improve outcomes are improving immunization rates and medication adherence.

Vaccines are one of the most cost-beneficial interventions in health care. In the U.S., we have done a great job ensuring our children are protected from various communicable diseases. Vaccination rates for most serious ailments are in the 90th percentile for children. However, the same cannot be said when it comes to adults, as their vaccination rates are abysmal. For example, less than 50% of adults get a flu shot every year.  What’s even more alarming is that approximately 20% of high-risk patients (e.g., patients suffering from lung disease) receive a pneumococcal vaccine. Both measures are well below the Healthy 2020 targets set by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP).

One approach to encourage adult vaccination is to further expand community-based pharmacist immunization capabilities. The evidence is clear that allowing pharmacists to provide vaccinations is the lowest cost alternative for providing this essential public health service. So it is vital that we expand and harmonize state laws governing pharmacist authority to immunize and to allow pharmacists to administer all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved and Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended vaccines.

The second example of a cost-saving preventative intervention is medication adherence. One of the most cost-effective ways to improve patient adherence is through pharmacist-led medication synchronization. Medication synchronization is a service that has been offered for the past several years by pharmacists to patients who take multiple chronic medications.

A pharmacist collaborating with a physician and in consultation with the patient ensures that all of the patient’s medications are refilled on the same day. Pharmacists operationalize the concept by making an appointment with a patient to pick up their prescriptions every month, or at 60 or 90 days — depending on the refill schedule — and to discuss other issues pertinent to their care, such as over-the-counter medicine usage, smoking cessation needs or vaccination requirements. Medication synchronization has not only reduced the number of trips a patient has to take to the pharmacy and lessened the administrative burden for pharmacists and physicians, but most importantly it has led to better patient medication adherence and cost savings overall.

In 2014, for example, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) decided that patients enrolled in Medicare Part D plans should have the opportunity to synchronize their medications if they choose to and if it is deemed appropriate by their pharmacist or physician, not only because it improved adherence but also because of the overall health care cost reductions. In their analysis, CMS stated, “while the estimated total 6-year cost of this rule to Part D sponsors is $0.5 million, the savings to Part D sponsors and beneficiaries is $1.8 billion.” More recently, a research article published in Health Affairs suggested that patients with cardiovascular disease whose medications were synchronized were three times more adherent with their medications leading to 9% lower hospitalization and emergency department visits.

Fortunately, most states except for California and a handful of smaller ones have taken the lead from CMS to allow all patients in need to benefit from medication synchronization. It is now up to the pharmacists to offer this service universally to their patients.

No one denies that saving health care costs is a noble cause, and everyone agrees that it is not an easy task. However, policymakers are only focusing on the side of the ledger marked “cost”.  Instead, they should be implementing policies that guide us towards the goal of disease prevention to achieve the ultimate endpoint of reducing health care costs while improving patient outcomes.