sealPurdue News

June 2001

Pharmacists prescribe solution
to insurance bottleneck

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Weaving through the diverse assortment of insurance plans has changed the way pharmacists do business, and, according to some, contributed to a national shortage of practicing pharmacists.

One of the fastest growing trends is the third-party payment plan, where insurance companies sign contracts with drug companies to provide certain medications at a set price with a small professional fee provided for the pharmacist.

These plans, along with other insurance and managed-care plans, are such a maze that many universities, drug stores and insurance companies have developed programs to help educate the pharmacist on how to process claims and offer the best price on a prescription drug.

"There are many, many different plans," said Charles O. Rutledge, dean of Purdue University's School of Pharmacy and Pharmacal Sciences. "Some have deductions up to a certain amount, some are co-pay, and some pay for certain medications while not covering others. The third-party payment plan is fairly new, but something that has escalated dramatically in the past few years."

According to figures from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, pharmacists spend about 22 percent of the working day on of administrative duties.

It has become a topic in today's pharmacy classroom, said Joseph Thomas, a professor of pharmacy administration at Purdue, which has one of the largest professional programs in pharmacy in the nation.

"It is a topic covered today, and the students get hands-on practical experience at the training pharmacy, which is an actual working pharmacy we have on campus for Purdue students," Thomas said. "The students must take the health card from the patient and determine the payment of the prescription. This is definitely growing as managed-care plans grow."

Due to an increase in drug development, greater availability of insurance and managed-care plans, and the mass marketing of prescription drugs, the demand for prescriptions has grown as well. According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, about two billion prescriptions were filled in 1992, and three billion in 1998. By the year 2005, this figure is expected to reach four billion.

Experts say the answer to meeting this growing demand is not to increase the number of practicing pharmacists, but to change the way prescriptions are filled.

"It may seem that there are not enough people to fill the prescriptions, and it is only natural that the first instinct is to increase the number of pharmacists, but the real answer to this is improved time management and a more efficient use of pharmacy technicians," Rutledge said.

Rutledge said Purdue is working with employers, state associations and other educational institutions, such as Ivy Tech State College, to provide the necessary tools to train pharmacy technicians.

"Purdue serves as a consultant to help implement training programs for pharmacy technicians," he said. "This also helps our graduates. Like most pharmacy schools, we are moving from a traditional pharmacy degree, which focuses on the dispensation of prescribed drugs, to a Pharm. D. degree, which focuses more on the overall health of the patient receiving medications. Increasing the role of the qualified technician will give the pharmacist more time to work with customers."

Sources: Charles O. Rutledge, (765) 494-1368,

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