Relaxing Restrictions on Pharmacists

by James A. Bacon

Under a bill signed by Governor Ralph Northam today, pharmacists will be able to provide a wider array of services to adults such as writing prescriptions for the flu, administering COVID vaccines, and prescribing controlled substances for HIV. A separate bill signed into law will expand the scope of practice for physician assistants.

“It’s long past due for us to eliminate barriers for people to get basic care,” said Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, who submitted the bills. “Pharmacists and physicians assistants are health care professionals who can and should be able to provide basic services. For people who don’t have a primary care provider, this will make a huge difference when it comes to treating basic illnesses.”

“As Vice Chair of the Committee on Health, Welfare, and Institutions,” said Rasoul in a press release, “I’ve seen the structural problems in our health system that have prevented Virginians from accessing care even before the most recent pandemic. This bill removes barriers while ensuring safe, quality care for patients.”

Specifically, HB 2079 bill allows pharmacists to provide services for adults, including:

  • Testing and writing prescriptions for the flu, strep, tuberculosis, and urinary tract infections,
  • Administering vaccines that currently have emergency use authorization from the CDC, like the COVID vaccines, as well as other vaccines for certain diseases, and
  • Prescribing controlled substances for pre- and post-exposure to HIV.

The bill passed the Senate unopposed and the House with only two opposing votes.

HB 2039 allows a physician assistant to enter into a practice agreement with more than one patient care team physician, and limits the liability of physicians for the actions or inactions of a physician assistant.

Bacon’s bottom line: Licensure laws sometimes place unnecessarily tight restrictions on the services that medical professionals can provide. As physician shortages become ever more pronounced, those licensure restrictions make it increasingly difficult for lower-income Virginians to access health care. Traditionally, Virginia has addressed access issues by throwing money at the problem. Rasoul’s bill takes an alternate approaching: peeling back regulation. How refreshing.