The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights recently released “Guidance to the Nation’s Retail Pharmacies: Obligations under Federal Civil Rights Law to Ensure Access to Comprehensive Health Care Services.”
Unfortunately, the statement by HHS has far-reaching and potentially harmful implications for the pharmacist-patient relationship beyond HHS’s intended purpose to maintain access to reproductive healthcare. Although narrowly focused, the guidance includes some language that could be read to conflict with state provider status laws, and/or undermine clinician judgment.
Specifically, the guidance states that “pharmacies may not discriminate against pharmacy customers on the bases prohibited by Section 1557 and Section 504—including with regard to supplying medications; making determinations regarding the suitability of a prescribed medication for a patient; or advising patients about medications and how to take them.” Although no form of discrimination against patients should be tolerated, pharmacists, as state-licensed autonomous healthcare professionals, are obligated to ensure that the comprehensive medication therapy management needs of patients are met and that all medication therapy is optimal, safe, and effective based on their professional judgment, the pharmacist-patient relationship, and engagement and communication with the entire healthcare team. The guidance adds to the confusion and apprehension healthcare professionals are experiencing due to a lack of clarity in state laws since the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
On June 28, ASHP released a statement calling for “patients’ rights to access reproductive health services,” which confirms the obligations of pharmacists related to reproductive health through formal policy by the ASHP House of Delegates.
ASHP will be reaching out to the Biden administration to request that HHS clarify the guidance to ensure that it does not negatively affect pharmacists’ ability to meet their obligations as state-licensed healthcare professionals and to address the medication therapy needs of their patients, including and beyond reproductive health.
We will provide ongoing updates to members as we continue our assertive advocacy to ensure that the broader comprehensive medication therapy management needs of patients are not harmed as a result of this new guidance.