Retailers, Pharmacists Reach Truce On Technician Oversight Bill

Mar 13, 2014

A fight over pharmacy staffing levels may be cooling down under a proposed compromise in the Florida Senate. But whether the deal sticks is another issue entirely.

For two years, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Pharmacy Association have butted heads over a plan that would allow pharmacists to oversee more technicians. The retailers—including major chains such as Walgreens and CVS -- argued for the plan, saying the increase in technicians is needed to meet growing demand. The pharmacists disagree, noting they’re still liable for any mistakes made by technicians. But as Senate Health Policy Chairman Aaron Bean points out, times have changed:

“Last year, this bill was out there and it didn’t do as well as it’s doing this year, and it’s because of folks that have come together.” 

Sebring Republican Senator Denise Grimsley is backing the bill this year. The current language would let the state board of pharmacy decide on technician increases on a case-by-case basis. Grimsley’s original proposal would have changed state law so pharmacists could oversee six pharmacists apiece. Currently, the ratio is one-to-one, unless a pharmacy petitions for up to two more per pharmacist. Florida Pharmacy Association CEO Michael Jackson attributes the change to concerns from some House lawmakers that they were not equipped to handle the issue:

“This particular debate is not going to be over yet. What happened here is, since the Legislature doesn’t have a pharmacist serving there... they’re feeling on the hill is that maybe this is a subject level best discussed at the board of pharmacy level.”  

Florida Retail Federation Lobbyist Melissa Joiner Ramba says, “I mean, there’s always still work to do. Our preference is the original language." Ramba adds, "It’s not on the House side yet, so we’re going to do our best to work with both sponsors to make sure we’re in a good position.” 

Ramba and Jackson say as the role of healthcare providers continues changing to meet an increased demand for services, pharmacists will have to step up. After all, it’s the pharmacist that’s the hub connecting specialists, primary care doctors and hospitals.

“Your pharmacy really serves as the one person who knows it all, and I think that’s good," said Ramba.

But while Jackson and the Florida Pharmacy Association are satisfied with leaving it to the Board of Pharmacy to approve additional technicians, he worries there’s nothing in law to protect pharmacists from liability as they take on more duties:

"The problem here is, the pharmacist must be fully swimming in their clinical duties and responsibilities, and still have to keep a hand in the other pool where the technicians are, because if there are incorrect things being done there, it’s the pharmacist that’s answerable to what they do.”

Adding more technicians would free up pharmacists to administer more vaccines and provide very basic primary care. That’s a goal of chain pharmacies, who see profit in becoming primary care centers as more Americans buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But it’s also another area that could steer the disagreements away from pharmacists and retailers—to pharmacists and doctors.