Jennifer Seifert is a pharmacist and executive director of the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio. The pharmacy began as a joint project of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church and Access Health Columbus, now the Healthcare Collaborative of Greater Columbus. Seifert is the latest healthcare provider and advocate to participate in our “Five Questions” interview
- What do you consider the most important part of the work that you do?
Seifert: We’re addressing a national crisis at the local level. The Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio is a unique model with proven results. Providing medication to underserved patients along with extensive medication counseling and pharmacy services reduces hospitalizations and improves the security people feel about their health care. Our model demonstrates how a community can come together to begin to answer a crisis, and I think the most important part of the work that I do is telling our story.
We provide medication and pharmacy services and coordinate health care for those most vulnerable in our community. For that, I have an incredibly dedicated team doing this important work. Patients living in poverty often feel hopeless about their health, which is heart breaking. When I or one of my staff or student pharmacists have the opportunity to listen and understand our patients’ needs, we can create a collaborative plan with them and their providers.
There is such power in that interaction with an individual patient. The hopelessness turns to empowerment before our eyes. It’s exciting and encouraging, while at the same time sobering to know that our patients often feel treated unjustly in our current healthcare system. We are part of the solution that tells patients they are not on the fringes of care, but at our pharmacy they’re at the center of care.
- What motivates you to do your work?
Seifert: Every day I see the burden lifted from a patient’s shoulders when they receive medication they’ve been going without; medication their doctor ordered but that they couldn’t afford. Our patients leave feeling cared for and treated the way we all hope and deserve to be treated. I couldn’t do it alone, and my team absolutely motivates me. Our mission drives our team, which makes the hard and exhausting work we do together possible.
Right now I find frustration quite motivating, too. Last week I worked with a 42-year-old woman with heart failure (from a childhood condition). She had been unable to work for a period and received Medicaid coverage. She recently started working and lost her Medicaid coverage, and while waiting the required 90 days before becoming eligible for employer-based coverage she had run out of 4 medications to treat her heart failure. It had been 60 days before she found us.
When I called her private practice cardiologist to request a change in one of her critically-needed medications to a therapeutically equivalent medication which I had in stock, the doctor’s office told me they don’t make medication changes without an appointment – and they won’t make an appointment without insurance. So incredibly frustrating and potentially disastrous for the patient. I ended up referring her to another charitable organization with volunteer cardiology connections, but our patients should not have to navigate a system so ridiculous.
- What are the biggest challenges you—or those you serve—face?
Seifert: Just follow the Columbus, Ohio, front-page story in our newspapers for the last 6 months. The inequities around access to prescription medication are so multifaceted and wide reaching. Ohio is doing a great job putting a spotlight on it. As a pharmacist, I honestly get angry every day about the state of prescription medication pricing. It’s a justifiable anger and a necessary one that pharmacists have felt for many years.
The fantastic part is that it’s getting national attention. The high cost of prescription medication in our nation is ludicrous and completely unnecessary. I am wary though that even though some very specific spotlights have been focused on the high cost of medication and specific areas of injustice, concrete steps have not yet been taken to address the crisis on a national level.
- What do you think the U.S. healthcare system should look like?
Seifert: We have to stop thinking we have the best healthcare in the world and realize that we are not even in the top 25 healthiest countries in the world. There’s a simple reality check here. If we have the best healthcare, then why are we as a nation so unhealthy? There are certainly a lot of factors that go into health and we can list a dozen off the top of our heads, but quality healthcare is a very important factor.
My area of expertise, prescription drugs, is the perfect example of astronomical healthcare costs leading to poor outcomes. To make a long and overly complicated story short, over the last few years pharmacy benefit managers who in essence set the prices of drugs are now owned by insurance companies who have their own pharmacies, have replaced local pharmacies with their pharmacies, and thus put their competition out of the market all the while driving drug prices up and up. I know this seems unbelievable, but it’s true. The non-transparency in drug pricing, demise of competition, and monopolizing of drug pricing by the entities that dispense drugs to most of the nation has increased the cost of healthcare and reduced choice for most people.
My patients at the charitable pharmacy represent the worst outcome – they simply can’t afford insurance and certainly can’t afford $600 per month for their insulin. Our policy makers have thus far been unwilling to step in and stop the monopolizing of prescription medication. I can only hope that in 2019 we as a nation start to really see what is happening and commit to drastically change our approach to drug pricing.
- What role do you see people of faith and faith communities playing in making the needed changes?
Seifert: Faith communities are built on relationships. Jesus is our ultimate example and teacher of relational living. I think of all of the individuals in the bible that Jesus has incredibly tender one-on-one relationships with (sometimes long term and sometimes just for a moment). Then I think of the personal way in which he loves you and me. Faith communities bring that relational component that is so vital for health. We have the drive and desire to care for those that are least amongst us because our faith commands and inspires us to care.
To learn about and support the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio, you can check out their website here.
Faith and Healthcare Notes
- Vulnerable Women in High-Deductible Health Plans Experienced Delayed Breast Cancer Care. As reported in Health Affairs, low-income women in ‘HDHPs’ experienced relative delays of almost 3 months to first biopsy, over 6 months to incident early-stage breast cancer diagnosis, and nearly 9 months to first chemotherapy.
- Healthcare Taxpayer Dollars Lead to . . . Corporate Profit? Health insurance company Centene, which sells only Medicare, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act plans, made $900 million in profit in 2018, Axios reports.
- Disastrous Results from Arkansas’ Trump-Inspired Medicaid Work Requirement. Several states are poised to take up the Trump administration’s invitation to impose red-tape work requirement on its Medicaid enrollees. From The Nation: “The policy has only been in effect for nine months, but the results are clear: Arkansans are being thrown off of Medicaid in huge numbers.”