Millions of Americans have suffered financially and mentally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least 27 million have lost their health coverage since it began, according to the Congressional Budget Office.1
In a recent survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund and SQL Server Reporting Services, more than 40% of respondents said that they are experiencing health insurance insecurity through lack of insurance, loss of insurance, or worrying about the potential to lose insurance.2 About 20% of these people will not be able to participate in alternative health coverage, such as Medicaid or subsidized health plans through the Affordable Care Act.3 Because of many cancelled surgeries and limited doctor visits, overall health will likely decline, too.4 As rates of diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and other health conditions continue to rise, more individuals will not have access to health care, including medicine, and conditions will worsen further.3 This threat is magnified when considering that 6 in 10 adults in the United States are living with chronic disease, which often requires daily medication.4 The loss a job and health care coverage quickly can mean difficulty paying out of pocket for medications and properly managing chronic conditions. To make matters worse, this population is vulnerable to experiencing severe outcomes if infected with COVID-19.5
Fortunately, pharmacists, can step in to help restore what coronavirus has broken by supporting patients who cannot afford medications and have lost their insurance coverage.
Although the solution is not linear, there are well-established organizations available for help.
One such organization is Dispensary of Hope, a nonprofit medication distributor based in Nashville, Tennessee, whose mission is to provide life-saving medication to individuals who cannot afford it. Since 2012, the organization has provided medication access to low-income, uninsured Americans. Dispensary of Hope connects manufacturers, which donate the medication, with sites of care, which dispense the medications, to reach the nation’s most vulnerable population and provide medications free of cost to patients at more than 200 sites in 35 states.6 In 2019 alone, the organization distributed more than 70 million doses of donated medication. Through this collaborative and patient-centered support, Dispensary of Hope is improving health outcomes and reducing avoidable emergency department visits and hospital readmissions.6
Access to medications is an important part of high-quality, value-based health care. Pharmacy associations are starting to prioritize. For example, medication access is 1 of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists’ practice initiatives for 2030. The American Pharmacists Association introduced a business item for its house of delegates about providing affordable and comprehensive pharmacy services to the underserved. And the Pharmacy Quality Alliance has developed a medication access framework for quality measurement to address the social determinants of health that hinder patient medication access and contribute to poor health outcomes. Pharmacists are the leaders in improving affordable medication access to communities and patients.
As millions of Americans worry about how they will afford medications, pharmacists can be their light in the darkness. Now, more than ever, is the time that nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and physicians can help those who need access to life-saving medicines.
Elizabeth DeMoss is a PharmD candidate at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy.
Elizabeth Valadez is a PharmD candidate at Belmont University College of Pharmacy in Nashville, Tennessee.
Hillary Blackburn, PharmD, MBA, is the founder and host of the Talk to Your Pharmacist podcast and director of pharmaceutical services at Dispensary of Hope in Nashville.
- The employment situation – July 2020 [news release]. August 7, 2020: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf
- Collins SR, Gunja MZ, Aboulafia GN, Czyzewicz E, Rapoport R. New survey finds Americans suffering health coverage insecurity along with job losses. The Commonwealth Fund. April 21, 2010. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2020/new-survey-finds-americans-suffering-health-coverage-insecurity-job-losses
- Herman B. Coronavirus likely forced 27 million off their health insurance. Axios. May 13, 2020. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-27-million-lost-employer-health-insurance-c77fe46a-691d-49b3-9cd2-3ad6d19df159.html
- Cooper D, Wolfe J. (April 2020). Updated state numbers project further job losses due to the coronavirus. Working Economics Blog. April 1, 2020. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.epi.org/blog/nearly-20-million-jobs-lost-by-july-due-to-the-coronavirus/
- CDC. Chronic diseases in America. Updated October 23, 2019. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.htm
- Dispensary of Hope. 2019. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2514/dispensary_of_hope_annual_report_2019.pdf?1576855665907