News: Quick Takes

Senate advances bills that would give more freedom to pharmacists, PAs

Two bills, which would allow medical professionals who aren’t doctors greater latitude in serving patients, are advancing in the Senate. 

Taken together, the bills would help reduce health care costs by freeing up pharmacists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners to perform more basic services.

House Bill 96 would allow pharmacists to administer injectable drugs to patients with a prescription. Pharmacists can already give vaccines under N.C. law, such as the flu shot or COVID vaccine. Should the bill pass, the N.C. Board of Pharmacy and the N.C. Medical Board would draw rules for what sorts of drugs pharmacists would be permitted to administer and what record-keeping requirements would be needed, by April 2022 at the latest. 

At least 40 states already allow pharmacists to administer injectable medicines, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. Doing so relieves pressure on clinics and other medical facilities and makes it easier for people to access medicine; long-acting antipsychotic medication or injections to treat drug addiction, for example.

The N.C. Medical Society has opposed the bill, though the organization claimed credit for a requirement that a patient have a prescription before a pharmacist can administer the drug. The bill passed the House unanimously in May and is in the Senate health care committee. 

House Bill 629 would make it easier for physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe pain medicine for short-term use. Under current law, PAs or NPs must consult with a supervising physician to prescribe these medications if the patient is being treated by a medical practice primarily treating pain, or by a practice that advertises pain-relieving services. The bill would remove the latter provision, allowing physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe pain medications, even if their practice advertises such services. 

The N.C. Medical Society supports the bill, which passed the House unanimously last month. The Senate health care this week committee gave a favorable report, but the bill faces more committee hearings before a final vote.

The two bills are among a handful of health care-related bills under consideration by the General Assembly this session, including one on the governor’s desk. That measure, House Bill 224, would enter North Carolina into an interstate compact making it easier for occupational therapists from other states to start work here. The Senate approved the bill this week, and it’s on the governor’s desk.

Other bills that would give the state more information on claims to the State Health Plan, require insurance to cover telehealth, and support teledentistry, have all passed the House but require hearings in Senate committees.