Before Admiral Brett Giroir spoke at a press conference in Baton Rouge on Wednesday, he had an important stop to make: the local, independently owned pharmacy in his hometown, just over the bridge from where he grew up in Marrero.
“This is the front door to medicine in the country, the local pharmacy,” said Giroir, a critical care pediatrician who now serves as Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Ninety-five percent of the American population lives within five miles of a pharmacy.”
In Louisiana, a state with many rural pockets, federal government officials have identified local pharmacies as a key player in getting vaccines into the arms of every person who wants one in the state.
But a conversation with the four employees of LaPharmacy on Wednesday highlighted the need for more staffing and higher reimbursement rates for independent pharmacies.
Running more tests isn’t feasible based on how their business is reimbursed. The federal government pays for the tests through McKesson Corporation, a drug distribution giant that is also in charge of distributing most of the eventual vaccines in the U.S. McKesson issues a rebate to independent pharmacies like LaPharmacy for the tests it gives every two weeks. And the rebate, $9, isn’t enough to justify hiring another employee. It was $6 per test until July.
“You only get $9 a test?” Giroir asked. "Do you know how much they get paid for a test from us? It’s $125 bucks.”
The disparity was news to both the pharmacy and Giroir, who helped issue an act in September to allow pharmacists and pharmacist interns to order and administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We don’t want to create barriers,” said Giroir. “We’d like [testing] to be 50 or 75 per day. To have $9 a test, that is not a whole lot of margin for you.” Continue Reading