Pharmacy school loan forgiveness: Healthcare reform offers students new hope

May 15, 2011

If the Affordable Care Act makes pharmacists primary care providers, the profession gains a host of advantages, including Medicare provider status. For AACP, the goal is eligibility for student loan forgiveness under the NHSC.

Key Points

"A growing number of public policy players recognize the value of pharmacists in the public health arena," said Lang, now AACP's vice president for policy and advocacy. "The Affordable Care Act [ACA] adds new approaches to recognizing pharmacists as providers."

HRSA says no

HRSA runs the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). NHSC participation is a key requirement for student-loan forgiveness, Lang told Drug Topics. The other key requirement is HRSA recognition that the profession provides primary health services. That's where ACA comes into the picture.

Are team members PCPs?

ACA emphasizes team-based providers and the patient-centered medical home, Lang said. Pharmacists are as much members of provider teams as are physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other professionals already defined as primary care providers. If ACA makes pharmacists primary care providers, the profession gains a host of advantages, including Medicare provider status. For AACP, the goal is eligibility for student loan forgiveness under the NHSC.

Building a case

Lang noted that pharmacists have already participated in NHSC in a 4-year demonstration. HRSA is currently evaluating a report on the project. NHSC also has surveyed NHSC-approved sites such as community health centers to gauge the demand for services from additional practitioners such as pharmacists. Results of the survey are under review by HRSA.

"The idea isn't to substitute a pharmacist for a physician or a nurse practitioner," Lang said. "It's about maximizing opportunities to provide better quality of care and reducing costs through the team-based approach that runs throughout ACA. That eligibility can come through legislation or it can come through deeming authority that already rests with the secretary of HHS. We are working on both approaches."