New federal, state reforms to ease disaster relief kinks

October 22, 2007

There are several reforms for emergency preparedness in the workds that could affect pharmacists.

But after all that effort, many of the pharmacies and other industry people had no way of knowing who to bill, whether it was a local board for pharmacy, local government, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Indeed, some of those payment problems are ongoing to this day, said Worrall, who spoke at the recent Fall Legislative Conference of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy in Arlington, Va.

New program

Eligible consumers-who must be from the disaster area-may bring a prescription or a refill to a retail pharmacy. Pharmacies may also deliver to a shelter. Worrall noted that if evacuees went from Louisiana to Maine, the system could serve them. The pharmacy will check eligibility, adjudicate the claims, and dispense the medications with no co-pay.

The EPAP process will pay pharmacies for "eligible clean claims" through a claims processor that will have the contract for that purpose.

Worrall said the program will provide more than 50,000 locations to get necessary medications and equipment, while allowing pharmacists to be first responders without taking on excessive financial risk. It will leverage the efficiencies of the private drug distribution system and lower the costs of government, he asserted.

Crossing the line

In another example of post-Katrina reforms, a piece of proposed legislation will be before many state legislatures next spring to help healthcare practitioners, including pharmacists, cross state lines and practice, to provide aid in emergencies.

Raymond Pepe, an attorney who chaired the drafting committee for that proposal, told the NABP meeting there were widespread reports of problems and barriers for volunteer health practitioners eager to help after the 2005 hurricanes. In light of that, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws formed a study group to look at what changes in state law would make systems more workable. It approved a model state law in July of this year.

The proposal, which each state can adopt, reject, or adopt in an amended form, would have the state recognize the licenses of out-of-state practitioners in emergencies if the volunteers are registered under the systems established for that purpose. The registration systems will be those set up by governmental agencies, by private organizations that work with disaster relief, or by healthcare organizations that have demonstrated their ability to carry out this kind of effort. Systems will determine whether the volunteers are licensed and in good standing.

In cases in which practitioners are injured or killed, the proposal would provide workers' compensation coverage by the host state as a source of last resort, if no other coverage is available.

The proposal has already been adopted or introduced in several states. Information on the act is provided at http://www.UEVHPA.org/.

THE AUTHOR is a writer based in the Washington, D.C., area.