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It’s time for the Legislature to take steps to protect pharmacy care

Minnesotans are falling victim to ‘pharmacy deserts’ as outlets continue to close.

All Minnesotans deserve access to trusted, local and accessible health care. Minnesotans average visits to their local pharmacy 18 times a year, but may only see their doctor once a year. As pharmacists, our job is to consult and assist patients with various health concerns through medicinal practices, tests, screenings and advising on patient health. It’s why quality community pharmacy care is so critical.

Supporting the health and wellness of our community members is the top priority, but without legislative action this session, many of the key services we provide could be lost, and patients and public health will pay the price of inaction. 

At the end of this year, the COVID-era Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act will expire, and with it will go numerous vaccination and testing services that Minnesotans have come to expect from their local pharmacy. Pharmacists played a significant role in not just vaccinating for COVID-19, but also stepped up with additional testing for influenza, strep, A1C and numerous other everyday ailments. The state needs to act to ensure pharmacists can continue to provide those important services to patients. 

In addition, the Legislature must act to secure stable Medicaid reimbursement for local pharmacies and ensure that patient services are covered by their health insurance. We will be unable to stop the tide of pharmacy closures that have plagued communities and underserved parts of our state. 

Since 2018, Minnesota has lost more than 34% of its independently-owned pharmacies, and almost 20% of franchise pharmacies — more than any other state in the country. These closures have left over two dozen Minnesota cities without a local pharmacy. Without increasing reimbursement rates for low-income Minnesotans utilizing our services, as well as ensuring pharmacies are paid at the same rate for services in comparison to other health care providers, more pharmacies will be forced to close their doors.

What does this mean for Minnesotans? Next year, when your local pharmacy cannot continue to operate under exhaustive financial strain, you and your family may find it more difficult to find localized, accessible health care. Minnesotans are falling victim to “pharmacy deserts” — underserved areas in the state in which, due to pharmacy closings, patients are forced to travel more than 30 minutes away for basic healthcare needs. Pharmacy deserts exacerbate inequitable health outcomes for low-income, rural and BIPOC communities.

In 2020, Minnesota pharmacies were at the forefront of fighting COVID-19, providing fast and effective testing and life-saving vaccinations to patients across the state. We played an essential role in stopping the spread and advocating for preventative measures, all while maintaining our patients’ health in our local community. At a time when office jobs, schools and stores were shut down, pharmacies worked tirelessly to provide our communities with top quality care. Now is the time to demand the Legislature act to protect accessible pharmacy patient care for Minnesotans. It will save lives.

About the Author: John Hoeschen is a pharmacist and the owner of St. Paul Corner Drug.

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