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Opinion Help pharmacists fulfill the goals of ‘test to treat’

A line of people waits outside Sameday Health at 8030 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring for a coronavirus test on Dec. 18. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

During the State of the Union address, President Biden announced the “test to treat” initiative to allow patients to get tested for the coronavirus at pharmacies and, if positive, receive oral antiviral pills immediately at no cost [”White House ‘test to treat’ plan garners praise, raises questions,” Politics & the Nation, March 5]. This is an important acknowledgment of pharmacy accessibility and capability, and I commend the administration’s recognition of pharmacy and its value to public health. As we now know, timely testing and treatment are essential to curb the spread and reduce hospitalizations. Though this initiative is a positive step forward, we must address the legislative hurdles that will challenge the long-term viability of the “test to treat” model.

First, the emergency-use authorizations for the oral antivirals limit pharmacists’ ability to prescribe, despite Prep Act authorizations. That leaves pharmacies unable to dispense unless they have a prescriber on site and a collaborative practice agreement in place — this is more common at large retail stores than independent pharmacies, which many rural communities rely on. Second, the Prep Act currently authorizes pharmacies to administer coronavirus clinical services such as tests, vaccinations and antibody treatments, but this is all temporary. Furthermore, no established reimbursement vehicle exists within Medicare to compensate pharmacists for services such as this in perpetuity.

More than anything, giving pharmacists the permanent ability to test, prescribe and dispense antivirals for the coronavirus would level the access hurdles that exist today.

Jennifer Zilka, Conshohocken, Pa.

The writer is president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy, a part of AmerisourceBergen.