The D.C. Department of Health on Monday released the names of the first 10 pharmacies to join a new city-run network of pharmacies certified to dispense prescriptions for patients enrolled in the city’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program or ADAP.
Dr. Gregory Pappas, director of the department’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), said a DOH overhaul of the pharmacy network would require some patients to switch pharmacies to refill their prescriptions over the next month or two.
But he said the changes being put in place would provide an “enhanced quality of services” to patients while saving money for the city.
“During the transition period — from July 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012 — all eligible and enrolled clients will continue to have access to life-saving medications,” a statement released on Monday by DOH says.
“The transition aims to enhance and expand the services currently provided by initiating a new network of selected pharmacy providers throughout the District,” the statement says.
The DOH announcement came at a time when some AIDS activists and an official with Care Pharmacies, a local private pharmacy network that has operated the city’s ADAP prescription program for more than a decade, predicted that too few pharmacies would join the new network in time to refill prescriptions for patients in the month of July.
DOH announced earlier this year that it decided not to renew Care Pharmacies’ contract to administer the ADAP pharmacy network, saying it would be more efficient and cost effective for the DOH to run its own pharmacy network.
DOH officials initially said they would release the names of the pharmacies participating in the new city-run network on June 15. But the DOH did not meet that deadline, raising concern among some that the new system would not be ready in time for patients to renew their prescriptions beginning July 1, when the Care Pharmacies contract ended.
“The salient factor for patients – and this is very, very important – is no one is going to be denied anti-retroviral [AIDS drugs],” Pappas told the Blade in an interview Monday. “No one’s ADAP status is going to change. No one’s medication status is going to change,” he said.
The new 10-member pharmacy network replaces a Care Pharmacies network that was said to have had at least 24 participating pharmacies. Pappas said the DOH expects the new network to expand over the next month or two.
A DOH spokesperson said eight of the ten pharmacies that joined the new network were among the 24 pharmacies participating in the Care Pharmacies network.
“Every pharmacy in good standing in the District of Columbia that’s got a license, that’s up on their taxes and has a Medicaid certification, can participate,” he said. “This is a very open, equitable system.”
“The DOH procurement team is in the process of inviting all registered pharmacies in the District of Columbia to participate in the new network,” the DOH statement released on Monday says. “The new DOH pharmacy network will be fully operational by Sept. 1, 2012.”
Pappas said that over the past year the city has transferred as many as 1,000 ADAP patients into the city’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, the new health insurance reform law initiated by the Obama administration and upheld last week by the Supreme Court. He said the transfers left about 800 D.C. HIV/AIDS clients remaining in the ADAP program.
One pharmacy missing from the list of participating ADAP pharmacies released this week by the DOH is the one operated by Whitman-Walker Health, a development that surprised AIDS activists.
Last month, Whitman-Walker executive director Don Blanchon told the Blade that Whitman-Walker was serving as many as 400 ADAP patients in its pharmacy under the existing network. He said Whitman-Walker planned to join the new city-run network.
DOH spokesperson Najma Roberts said on Tuesday that as of June Whitman-Walker had actually been serving “about 200 ADAP beneficiaries each month.”
Pappas told the Blade he hoped Whitman-Walker would become part of the network soon during the DOH’s next enrollment period. He declined to comment on why Whitman-Walker wasn’t admitted in the first round.
Whitman-Walker spokesperson Chip Lewis said Whitman-Walker expects to apply for admission to the network in the next round of enrollments, which he expected to take place in the next few days.
“We’re going to apply for that and we fully expect to be added to the list of pharmacies,” he said.
Asked why Whitman-Walker didn’t enroll in the first group of 10 pharmacies, he said, “I think it’s just been the challenges of the transition process.”
Lewis said that during the short period in which Whitman-Walker is not a member of the new pharmacy network it will likely have to refer its current ADAP pharmacy patients to one or more of the other pharmacies in the network.
Lewis said Whitman-Walker ordered extra drug supplies in anticipation of “issues” that might surface in the transition period but said he wasn’t sure if the clinic’s pharmacy could use those drugs to fill prescriptions if the pharmacy wasn’t yet admitted to the new network.
Asked if the new network could accommodate as many as 200 patients from Whitman-Walker along with patients from other pharmacies that chose not to join the new network, DOH’s Roberts said, “The existing network of 10 pharmacies has the capacity to serve clients during the months of July and August.”
Pappas and Gunther Freehill, a DOH official involved in the ADAP program, each said they expect a smooth transition for patients who learn this month that their current pharmacy will no longer fill their ADAP prescription.
“There is a central database repository that has ADAP eligibility information on it and it tells each pharmacy who is eligible for each program,” Freehill told the Blade. “If the client has a current prescription and/or a pill bottle that has refills left on it they can simply go to one of those [pharmacies on the list] and get the bottle filled.”
Added Pappas: “They should take their pill bottle to one of the pharmacies on the list and they will be able to get their medication without delay.”
Following is the list of pharmacies released on Monday by DOH where ADAP patients can go to obtain or refill their prescriptions:
AIDS Healthcare Foundation
Blair Underwood Healthcare Center
2141 K St., N.W., Suite 606
Apex Care Pharmacy
3839 Minnesota Ave., N.E.
H Street Care Pharmacy & Wellness Center
812 H St., N.E.
3001 P St., N.W.
Pharmacare @ DC
651 Florida Ave., N.W.
Seat Pleasant Pharmacy
350 Eastern Ave., N.E.
Sterling Care Pharmacy
1647 Benning Rd., N.E., Suite 101
Super Pharmacy and Medical Equipment
1019 H St., N.E.
Community, a Walgreen’s Pharmacy
1325 14th St., N.W.
1217 22nd St., N.W.