Montana Pharmacists May Get More Power to Prescribe

by | Jan 27, 2023 | Health

Mark Buck, a physician and pharmacist in Helena, Montana, said he’s been seeing more patients turn to urgent care clinics when they run out of medication. Their doctors have retired, moved away, or left the field because they burned out during the covid-19 pandemic, leaving the patients with few options to renew their prescriptions, he said.

“Access is where we’re really hurting in this state,” Buck said.

Senate Bill 112, sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom McGillvray, would address that need by expanding the limited authority Montana already gives pharmacists to prescribe medications and devices. Supporters said the measure could help fill health care gaps in rural areas in particular, while opponents worried it would give pharmacists physician-like authority without the same education.

Eleven states, including Montana, give pharmacists prescribing authority to some degree for medications such as birth control, naloxone, tobacco cessation products, preventive HIV drugs, and travel-related medications. The FDA has allowed pharmacists nationwide to prescribe the covid drug Paxlovid during the public health emergency.

According to a 2021 report by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, there were about 228,000 primary care physicians nationwide in 2019 and more than 315,000 pharmacists in 2020. The report found that patients using Medicare visit a pharmacist twice as often as a primary care provider, and the difference is even larger in rural areas.

Pharmacists, who often work in grocery stores, “are open longer hours than most doctors’ offices, and no appointment is needed,” the authors of the Mercatus Center study wrote.

Under the bill, pharmacists could prescribe for patients who do not require a new diagnosis, for minor conditions, or in emergencies. They could not prescribe controlled substances.

During a Jan. 18 committee hearing …

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