Here’s My Idea for Better Consumer Access to Prescription Drugs
Pharmacy passes could help facilitate med refills more quickly, this columnist says
Imagine this: As an established patient with lifelong illnesses, you walk into any pharmacy, slide an access pass, and walk out with your prescription drug refills in less than five minutes. It didn’t require you to phone in your prescription. And you didn’t have to talk to anyone, unless you really wanted to.
This, of course, isn’t reality, but rather a wild fantasy of mine cooked up with a few friends. We’re currently reading “Let the Record Show” by Sarah Schulman, a tome of a book that discusses the people who joined the Act Up movement, a social justice group that highlighted the truth about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and early ’90s.
The book’s central motivation is to figure out what personality traits people who join activist groups are most likely to have. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone (seriously, go read it for yourself!), but I think I’m learning that the answer to this question is that given the right environment, everyone has the potential to become an activist.
Delays have consequences
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my local pharmacy’s lunch hours required me to make a return trip on another day. It wasn’t a big deal, except that it was complicated by an unexpected insurance rejection because they wanted a prior authorization, which took the weekend to obtain.
It ended up taking another week to have my medication in hand, and because of the red tape, I had to skip my mental health medication for a couple of days, resulting in withdrawal. All of this caused a relapse of severe mental health symptoms I hadn’t experienced in years.
The most frustrating part about all of it is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
This might be a good place to clarify that I do not think that everyone should have unlimited access to prescription medications. But there have been countless times in my life where my lungs have started feeling junky on a Friday night, hours after my clinic closed, and if I had started a prescription of oral antibiotics sooner — without having to wait until Monday to hear back from my pulmonologist — I probably wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital for a tuneup.
For patients like me who have documented needs and active care providers, having a simple scan-in system would eliminate so many unnecessary barriers to access.
In the midst of severe stigma against the LGBTQ+ community and a deadly disease flourishing, members of Act Up successfully protested for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the way drug trials were conducted, ultimately speeding up the process so that patients could access potentially lifesaving drugs sooner.
We still see the benefits from this process today; the underlying process that allowed mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to be provided more quickly than any previous vaccine was rooted in the actionable changes Act Up inspired the FDA to make.
We don’t have prescription passes for complex, chronic patients. But the process to obtain medications has never been a constant; systems are — and should be — willing to evolve in response to the needs of the people they’re meant to serve.
All it takes is a group of people willing to believe in change together, working toward a common goal of betterment, to make something happen. And, of course, the willingness to share our individual and maybe radical ideas along the way.
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