Pharmacy champion in Congress: Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC)

Jun 25, 2014
In The News

This profile of Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) is part of an occasional series in Pharmacy Today on Members of Congress who are champions of pharmacy. On March 11, 2014, Butterfield partnered with Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Todd Young (R-IN) to introduce legislation to amend Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to enable patient access to, and coverage for, Medicare Part B services by state-licensed pharmacists in medically underserved communities (H.R. 4190). Butterfield serves on the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health, and is a champion of affordable medical care and of federal programs that support low-income and middle-class Americans. Following are Today’s questions and his responses from a recent e-mail interview:

Where does your appreciation for pharmacists and pharmacy come from?
I am from a small community in eastern North Carolina. I have been going to the same pharmacy down the street from my house for years. Pharmacies are the lifeblood of many rural communities. They are deeply woven into the unique fabric and identity of every community. It’s a place where people get more than their prescriptions filled. They gain a sense of community by seeing neighbors, trading stories, and learning about current events, all while fostering a culture of respect and trust with their pharmacist.

What do you find most compelling about H.R. 4190 that prompted you to introduce it?
Pharmacists play an integral role in the health and well-being of the more than 200 million Americans who take at least one prescription drug. Over the next 2 decades, the number of Medicare enrollees is expected to grow from roughly 50 million to 80 million while the shortage of qualified medical professionals is expected to only get worse.
Pharmacists are unsung heroes. They are accessible health care professionals who, in coordination and collaboration with other health care providers, are capable of playing a greater role in the delivery of health care services. Today, they provide wellness testing, help to manage chronic diseases, administer immunizations, and help to reduce hospital admissions. They deserve to be reimbursed by Medicare for their excellent work that saves lives, and consumers and taxpayers a lot of money.

As Today goes to press, 56 Members of Congress have signed on to cosponsor the bill. Why do you think H.R. 4190 is so rapidly gaining support from your colleagues in Congress?
Members [of Congress] see this as a common-sense issue. Pharmacists are highly educated, highly trained health care professionals who deserve to practice at the top of their state-issued license. With the eventual addition of some 30 million people to the Medicare rolls, pharmacists will be desperately needed to provide critical preventive care. 

How would H.R. 4190 benefit millions of seniors across the country, and particularly those who live in rural and underserved areas?
The need for pharmacists to be able to help meet the demand for health care services is particularly acute in medically underserved communities. Instances of chronic disease are disproportionally higher in rural areas than the rest of the country. Pharmacies in rural areas serve as a community gathering place and do not just act as a means for a person to get their prescription. Individuals trust their pharmacist, and building on that trust to provide excellent care with chronic disease management, immunizations, and other life-saving screenings benefits seniors, their families, and American taxpayers.

Could you comment on how expanding patient access to primary care through trained, qualified, and licensed pharmacists, while also addressing the shortage in the delivery of care, is basic supply and demand?
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act and a projected 30 million people to become Medicare beneficiaries within the next 2 decades, the shortage of primary care physicians will widen. Pharmacists can help to stem the tide and provide meaningful, highly skilled care to the growing population of seniors. 

What can our pharmacist readers do to assist you in passing this legislation?
I encourage every reader to contact their state’s congressional delegation and ask [that] they show their commitment to pharmacists and America’s seniors by cosponsoring H.R. 4190. The public’s advocacy for this very important bill will go a long way in helping to secure its passage.