Expiring Federal Policies That Could Impact Healthcare Access 

The healthcare industry as a whole has experienced a series of significant changes since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regulatory adjustments made in response to the pandemic altered healthcare in a number of ways, most notably in the ways treatments were permitted to be delivered.

And now, as the Public Health Emergency (PHE) is set to expire in May and the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act is due to sunset in 2024, more changes are on the way. Those working in the healthcare industry, and particularly the long-term care sector, may encounter new challenges as they readjust to a more “normal” environment, post-COVID.

A fact sheet prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a glimpse into what will and won’t change, as it relates to healthcare, once the PHE expires. Among the things that won’t be affected are the flexibilities introduced surrounding telehealth and the accessibility to buprenorphine for opioid use disorder treatment. However, certain waivers offered during the pandemic will be rescinded and coverage for COVID-19 testing will change. 

When it comes to the likely sunset of the PREP Act, unless temporary changes are made permanent, access to vaccine administration could be a significant challenge for those working in the long-term care industry. 

The PREP Act authorizes “limited legal liability for losses” for those administering medical “countermeasures” during a declared public health emergency. Put simply, the PREP Act allowed vaccines to be administered outside of a doctor’s office to expedite their delivery to larger volumes of patients. 

A large percentage of those vaccines were administered by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

While this change improved access to the vaccines, it also intentionally siphoned patients to alternate locations to diminish the burden on doctor’s offices and larger healthcare systems — which were overburdened as they tried to manage a never-before-seen pandemic. 

If and when the PREP Act expires, without federal intervention to extend it or make it permanent, more than two dozen states will no longer be able to utilize pharmacies or their pharmacists for vaccine administration, of particular importance to long-term care facilities that have come to rely on this access point for their patients.

If a recent report is any indicator, this access point for vaccinations has become a reliable one.

The “Trends in Vaccine Administration in the United States” report, issued recently by the IQVIA Institute and the Global Healthy Living Foundation, found that pharmacists became frontline caregivers during the pandemic as vaccinations at pharmacies soared. Beyond COVID-19 vaccines, pharmacists were seeing patients in search of flu, shingles, pneumococcal and HPV vaccinations. 

The report also found that health equity, particularly among minority populations, was improved due to increased access to care in a familiar setting that patients trusted. 

With all of this in mind, providers and caregivers working in a long-term care facility who rely on this access point for vaccinations may need to begin considering alternate options should the PREP Act sunset without interventions designed to make certain policies permanent. 

At UnitedRX, we deliver a hometown pharmacy experience to more than 400 clients across the country. Contact us to learn more about how our approach to treatment can meet the pharmacy needs of your long-term care facility.