Even in communities hardest hit by the effects of COVID-19, a constant safe haven exists. Seniors have continued to rely on pharmacists as a trusted source of care and support to manage their health. The pandemic exposed how fragile our healthcare system is and demonstrated how essential pharmacists are to bridging gaps in access for older Americans. 

But those lessons are lost if we fail to ensure that older Americans have continued access to pharmacist services beyond COVID-19. Congress has the opportunity to ensure seniors maintain access to tests, vaccines and treatments from pharmacists now and in the future — something the overwhelming majority of older Americans agree needs to happen now.

The pandemic has taken the greatest toll on older adults. Those 65 and older account for 16 percent of the U.S. population but 80 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. Research had found that transportation barriers to health are significant for older adults and can prevent access to essential services, which was made more critical at the height of the pandemic when tests and then vaccines were made available to seniors in their communities. 

Pharmacists have been essential in protecting seniors from COVID-19 at those moments and ensuring older Americans can manage their health during the pandemic, including the 85 percent of adults 65 and older who have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, arthritis and hypertension.

Unfortunately, pharmacists are providing these services under temporary federal authorities that were implemented with the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. When the emergency declaration ends, seniors and other vulnerable communities could lose access to the essential services they rely on for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases like influenza and strep throat.

This March, Congress introduced federal legislation to smooth over a potential access gap for seniors and ensure Medicare beneficiaries maintain access to essential care and services provided by pharmacists. Championed by Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wis., David McKinley, R-W.Va., Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., and Buddy Carter, R-Ga., the bipartisan legislation that would create Medicare Part B reimbursement mechanisms for pharmacists’ services related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other infectious diseases, including flu, strep throat and RSV. The bill would also ensure pharmacists are compensated for these services after the Public Health Emergency ends and during future health emergencies.

There is overwhelming support for the legislation. According to a new national survey, more than 80 percent of older Americans — including more than 90 percent of Hispanic-Americans — agree that the government should reimburse pharmacists for testing, vaccination and treatment for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. The same survey shows that four in every five older Americans want access to testing, vaccination and treatment at the pharmacy, including nearly 60 percent of minority communities.

The 65-and-older population grew by more than a third during the past decade and is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. Aging populations will continue to rely on pharmacists as an accessible source of care and support today and tomorrow. Older Americans — particularly those in rural and underserved communities — rely on pharmacists to access care and services where limited or no other options exist.

Congress should heed the call of Americans who agree that the government should preserve patient access to essential services provided by pharmacists. Congress should act on the legislation to ensure patients can continue to have access to essential services from pharmacists now and in the future.