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Pharmacy Panel Critiques Legislature Over Flu Tests

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A state pharmacy board on Monday criticized the Florida Legislature for not passing a bill that would have allowed Florida pharmacists to test and treat people for the flu and strep throat.

Members of the Board of Pharmacy Legislative Committee exchanged stories about the costly bills their family members incurred after undergoing flu tests at emergency departments.

Florida Board of Pharmacy member Blanca Rivera said her 27-year old daughter, who is uninsured, thought she had the flu and went to the emergency room.

“The bill was $13,000 and she was there for about three, four hours,” Rivera said. “They did MRIs and everything else that goes with it. So it’s significant.”

Though the apex of the 2017-18 flu season has passed, Florida continues to have higher than usual influenza activity, according to the Florida Department of Health. As of March 17, 239 pneumonia and influenza deaths had been reported to the state. Six pediatric deaths have been associated with the flu. None of the children had been vaccinated, according to the health department.

Rivera’s story involved the highest costs, but it wasn't the only one shared.

Jacksonville pharmacist Jeenu Philip, chairman of the Legislative Committee, said his wife racked up a $1,000 bill emergency department bill after being examined for flu-like symptoms.

During the legislative session that ended last month, lawmakers failed to pass a proposal (SB 524) that would have authorized pharmacists, who have established written protocols with physicians and maintain $200,000 in professional liability insurance, to test and treat for influenza virus and streptococcal infections.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 10 rapid diagnostic tests to screen for influenza, and the tests can provide results within 15 minutes, according to a legislative staff analysis of the bill.

But bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes R- St. Petersburg, withdrew the measure, which was opposed by physician groups.

Jonathan Hickman, another member of the committee, said he and his wife called an urgent care center to have their young daughter tested for the flu. The couple was told not to bring in the child because the center had run out of tests, Hickman said.

“My response to them was, ‘Well, can’t you diagnose this without a test?’ “ said Hickman, Regional Clinical Account Director at AstraZeneca. “We were told ‘No. Stay away.’ We did not receive medicine from that particular facility.”

The Board of Pharmacy is holding committee meetings in Tallahassee Monday and Tuesday. The board will discuss proposed rules and consider disciplinary action against some Florida pharmacists.