The Washington State University College of Pharmacy celebrated Monday with pharmacy colleagues from across the state as Gov. Jay Inslee signed ESSB 5557 into law. The new law, sponsored by Senator Linda Parlette (a WSU alumna), requires health insurance carriers to recognize pharmacists in the same way as other providers such as physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.

“ESSB 5557 opens doors that will allow pharmacists to be integral members of the patient care team alongside the primary care provider.  We believe utilizing pharmacists’ training and expertise at the fullest extent of licensure improves patient outcomes as well as reduces overall costs to the healthcare system,” said Julie Akers, a clinical assistant professor at the College of Pharmacy.

Since 1995, Washington state has required commercial health plans to include every group of health providers. Within the state, pharmacists can dispense medications and provide patient care, as allowed by their scope of practice. While commercial health plans recognized pharmacists for dispensing medications, they routinely refused to include pharmacists in their participating provider networks. ESSB 5557 requires commercial health plans to treat pharmacists as patient care providers, consistent with the Every Category of Provider law and the Attorney General’s opinion statement released in 2013. The new law effectively closes the loophole commercial health plans have used to deny patients access to pharmacist provided care.

Akers and pharmacy faculty colleague Jennifer Robinson were present in Olympia for the signing of the bill that marked a milestone in the profession of pharmacy. The two have been involved in the discussion, led by the Washington State Pharmacy Association, to determine what infrastructure will be needed and the processes and guidelines that should be in place in order for pharmacists to obtain the credentialing required by insurance companies to receive reimbursements.

The law, which goes into full effect by January 2017, does not change the pharmacists’ scope of practice or allow them to independently prescribe or modify medications. Collaborative Drug Therapy Agreements are still required and patients will still need to maintain visits to their family physician or regular health care provider. The law will allow pharmacists to apply to be included in the participating provider networks like all other providers.

“This law doesn’t change the pharmacist’s scope of practice,” said WSPA CEO in a statement to members. “It allows pharmacists to apply to participate in health plans and be treated the same as other providers.”

“We are looking forward to the additional opportunities that will be available to our graduates in the state of Washington as a result of this legislation,” said Gary Pollack, dean of the College of Pharmacy.

[May 12, 2015] Lori J. Maricle