HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pharmacists and pharmacy industry representatives polled by SN said a Pennsylvania state bill that would limit the number of pharmacy technicians in the workplace was unnecessary.
During a public hearing late last month here, pharmacy industry representatives voiced their opinions on House Bill 968 to the House Professional Licensure Committee. The bill would mandate that pharmacists immediately supervise no more than two technicians and would also require technicians to earn a high school diploma or an equivalent certificate, register with the state Board of Pharmacy and pass a board-approved certification exam within 18 months after the law passed.
There are no ratio restrictions in the state right now, and industry insiders told SN that business flow and efficiency could be hampered if the bill became state law. The law is intended to minimize the chance for errors in the dispensing of prescriptions by ensuring that technicians are adequately supervised.
Bruce Johnson, executive director for Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Association of Chain Drug Stores, said the law would adversely impact pharmacists.
"The ultimate responsibility would rest on the supervising pharmacist, and as long as he feels comfortable, there should be no arbitrary limit on how many he can employ," Johnson said.
One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Mario J. Civera Jr., told SN he introduced the legislation in March after TV news reports revealed that technicians in the state's pharmacies were making errors in filling prescriptions.
Civera, chairman of the Professional Licensure Committee, agreed with chain pharmacies that "there is a cost problem to this." However, he said chain pharmacies are "hiding behind the issue that there's a [pharmacist] shortage."
He said he expected the bill to be reported in October, and noted that there was interest from the administration in the measure.
The other sponsor of the bill, Rep. Tony DeLuca, was not available for comment.
Carmen A. DiCello, executive director for the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association here, said the mandatory certification component of the bill and the strict ratio would potentially shy away technicians. "With the shortage of pharmacists, it might not be appropriate to enforce a 2-1 ratio," he said. "Certification does not guarantee a good-quality technician."
Instead, he recommended they enact a grandfather clause for practicing technicians immediately, and allow five years for new technicians to be certified.
Currently, there are 18 states with a 2-1 ratio, three states with a 1-1 ratio, eight states with a 3-1 ratio, five states with a 4-1 ratio and 16 states with no ratio at all, according to data given to SN by Tom Golden, executive director for the House Professional Licensure Committee.
Kim Felt, president of American Association of Pharmacy Technicians, Greensboro, N.C., said the ratio requirement "could leave pharmacists overwhelmed." She pointed out, "The less people someone has to supervise, the less chance of error. But if the trail of checks is the way it's supposed to be, there should be no error."
Not all were opposed to the education and certification requirements. Carmen Catizone, executive director/secretary, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, Park Ridge, Ill., said the skill levels of technicians would only improve, thus augmenting efficiency.
"Minimum education requirements help create a more focused, specialized group of technicians," he said. "If pharmacists have better trained techs and are able to delegate more dispensing duties, it will free up time for more patient interaction and medication reviews."
Jody Stewart, director of pharmacy for Raley's, West Sacramento, Calif., where pharmacies are required to adhere to a 1-1-1 ratio between pharmacists, technicians and clerks, described the law as "backwards." She said the level of comfort is different for every supervising pharmacist.
"Some pharmacists feel comfortable supervising four technicians, while others feel comfortable supervising two," she said. "It's a controversial subject."