Lawmakers, pharmacists share concerns as PREP Act is scheduled to expire at the end of the year

Federal PREP Act to close at the end of the year

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(ABC 6 New) – On Tuesday, lawmakers and pharmacists are raising the alarm about Minnesota losing access to pharmacy care later this year.

At the end of 2024, the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness, or PREP, Act is expected to expire. The act improved access to medical resources during a COVID-19 pandemic.

“Pharmacists delivered for patients over the past four years by vaccinating millions, millions of Minnesotans. Without them and their pharmacy technicians, Minnesota could not have inoculated against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin) at a press conference Tuesday.

In April 2020, the pandemic changed healthcare forever and the PREP Act made care more accessible.

John Miller, the Public Affairs Co-chair at the Minnesota Pharmacists Association, explains how the PREP Act helped give vaccines to all.

“Vaccines were distributed by federal or state government to providers that signed agreements to participate in the program. They received those products free of charge. So, typically they would just bill an administration fee. So, there was no markup of the drug cost, since it was free.”

There are concerns that the end of the act could lower vaccination rates and create unequal healthcare opportunities.

Lawmakers are crafting multiple bills aiming to keep PREP benefits in place. One would allow pharmacies to perform tests and give Food and Drug Administration approved vaccines to children three and older. Currently, those six and older can benefit.

“Ultimately, providing services in the pharmacy as part of the care continuum means lower costs for patients and payers. And most importantly, we ensure better patient care,” said Rep. Kristin Bahner (DFL-Maple Grove.)

“Pharmacies have played a crucial role in delivering much needed to care for Minnesotans during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in areas where people may not have easy access to a clinic or hospital. With the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act expiring, it’s vital that the state act and allow these services at our pharmacies to continue, as well as increase reimbursement rates for the services these pharmacies provide to help them keep their doors open and deliver care to Minnesotans,” Sen. Liz Boldon (DFL-Rochester) tells ABC 6 News in a statement.

Some say this is an opportunity for a new beginning. Like Rep. Duane Quam (R-Byron.)

“There’s a tendency to give it due attention to be able to address and improve. Something that’s worked great for 10 years, well, maybe things have evolved and now we need to tweak it. This is an opportunity, I hope we take advantage of.”

According to Quam, the answer may not be a “one size fits all.”

“We need options that will fit communities. The only way that we’re going to find that is by sitting down, talking with the different communities, and looking at who we can plagiarize. I don’t mind copying success if it means that we allow options for the services for people,” added Quam.

Related: SE Minnesota counties collaborate on vaccine program this school year

In a statement to ABC 6 News, the Olmsted Medical Center shares its concerns if the measures can’t move forward.

“Olmsted Medical Center (OMC) strongly supports the bipartisan package of bills currently advancing through the Capitol to protect and strengthen patient access to vital pharmacy care in Minnesota.

“Without legislative action, the expiration of the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act threatens to halt many essential patient services, including vaccinations and point-of-care testing. This development poses a significant risk of exacerbating already low vaccination rates and creating inequitable health outcomes, particularly for low-income, rural, and BIPOC communities across Minnesota.

“The proposed legislative measures aim to enhance reimbursement rates, enabling community pharmacies to remain operational and ensuring expanded patient access to critical services such as immunizations. Olmsted Medical Center is proud to have a pharmacy presence in smaller, rural communities and we believe it is crucial to ensuring equitable access to essential healthcare services and improving health outcomes for all residents in southeast Minnesota.

“We urge all lawmakers to support these essential bills to safeguard the health and well-being of all Minnesotans, ensuring equitable access to vital healthcare services and combating the potential negative impacts on public health outcomes.”

Olmsted County Public Health Services also gave a statement to ABC 6 News:

“Olmsted County Public Health Services will continue to provide access to vaccinations, particularly for those who are uninsured or underinsured. We encourage our residents to reach out to their primary healthcare providers to stay up to date on their vaccines.”

The Minnesota Legislative session is set to adjourn May 20th.