A decision by the D.C. Department of Health to terminate its contract with a local pharmacy chain that has administered the city’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP, could prevent patients who rely on the program from refilling their prescriptions after July 1.
A representative of at least 15 D.C. pharmacies dispensing prescription drugs for low income people with HIV and AIDS and the director of the city’s Department of Health gave conflicting views this week on whether patients’ ability to refill their prescriptions for life-saving AIDS drugs will be disrupted beginning July 1.
A decision by DOH to terminate its contract with the local pharmacy chain Care Pharmacies that has administered the city’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP, was expected to prompt an as yet undetermined number of pharmacies to discontinue serving ADAP patients, potentially preventing the patients from obtaining the drugs when their current prescriptions run out, according to pharmacist Michael Kim, owner of Grubbs Pharmacy.
“This is going to be an absolute disaster,” said pharmacist Tamara Foreman, a member of the D.C. Board of Pharmacies, an independent entity that advises the city on pharmacy related matters.
“The patients are not being notified,” said Foreman, who also serves on the board of a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of pharmacy patients. “They are being told to anticipate a gap in service, but they’re not being told where to go if their pharmacy stops filling their prescription.”
Dr. Mohammad Akhter, director of the DOH, and Dr. Gregory Pappas, director of DOH’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), strongly dispute that assessment. Both told the Blade that no ADAP patients will be adversely impacted by the pharmacy related changes DOH is putting in place.
“We are providing the patients with a 60-day supply of drugs during the transition period,” Akhter told the Blade on Wednesday at a news conference on the release of the city’s 2011 Annual Report on its efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.
“I can tell you that no patients will be harmed in any way,” said Akhter.
He said DOH recently decided to postpone for one month the implementation of the revamped ADAP pharmacy program.
But he and Pappas declined to disclose how many pharmacies involved in the existing ADAP program operated by Care Pharmacies and how many others have opted to join the revised program to be operated directly by DOH.
Some AIDS activists, including Patricia Hawkins, a former Whitman-Walker Health official and member of the D.C.-area HIV Planning Council, have expressed concern that patients’ ability to refill their ADAP prescriptions could be jeopardized if too few pharmacies agree to be part of the new DOH pharmacy network.
Kim said Grubbs planned to stop serving ADAP patients beginning July 1, when the new city-administered program was originally scheduled to go into effect. Kim couldn’t be immediately reached to determine whether Grubbs would continue filling ADAP prescriptions for another month following DOH’s decision to postpone the new program.
Kim indicated in an earlier interview that DOH might postpone implementation of the new program, but said DOH had not informed Care Pharmacies that it planned to do so.
He and others familiar with the ADAP program said they were told by the city that a list of the participating pharmacies in the new program would be released on June 15.
The city didn’t release such a list on that date, prompting pharmacists and activists to fear that too few pharmacies would join the new system to adequately serve ADAP patients in need of prescriptions.
Kim said Grubbs, which is believed to have processed the largest number of ADAP prescriptions in D.C. over the past decade, isn’t signing up for the city’s revamped program because the DOH has cut in half its reimbursement payment for ADAP drug prescriptions and plans to keep the lower payment in place for the next five years.
He said the lower payment makes it too costly for Grubb and other pharmacies to process ADAP prescriptions. He acknowledged that Care Pharmacies currently collects the reimbursement for the prescriptions from the city, takes a cut to cover its own administrative costs and disburses the remaining amount of about $7 per prescription to the other pharmacies in the current program. The city was expected to dispense the reimbursement directly to each pharmacy under the new system.
ADAP, a joint federal-state program, was created under the Ryan White AIDS Care Act in the early 1990s as a means of providing life-saving AIDS drugs to low-income patients as well as symptom-free people with HIV who don’t have private health insurance coverage and can’t afford to pay for the drugs.
Many of the HIV medications, such as anti-retroviral drugs, cost between $1,000 to as much as $2,000 for a one-month prescription, AIDS advocacy groups familiar with ADAP have said.