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TRICARE Promises Continued Access to Prescription Meds

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2011 – A dispute between Walgreens and a TRICARE contractor will not stop beneficiaries from getting their prescriptions filled, despite a Walgreen’s ad campaign to the contrary, a TRICARE official said today.

Don’t let that advertising, letter and Internet outreach campaign scare you, Navy Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, deputy director of the TRICARE Management Activity, said. Even if contract renewal negotiations fall through and Walgreens drops out of TRICARE’s retail pharmacy network on Jan. 1, beneficiaries still will have plenty of other options for getting their prescriptions filled.

Hunter called the dispute between Walgreens and Express Scripts, Inc., the contractor for TRICARE’s retail pharmacy and pharmacy home delivery programs “a business matter” between the two companies.

A similar impasse between the two companies in 2008 ultimately was resolved by mid-November, about six weeks before the new contract was to take effect, she noted.

Walgreens is a big player in the TRICARE pharmacy network, with about 7,000 participating outlets that Hunter said have filled prescriptions for one in 10 TRICARE beneficiaries at one time or another.

Concerned about a campaign that has alarmed some TRICARE beneficiaries, Hunter offered assurance today that regardless of how this year’s negotiations go, patients will always have access to the medications they need.

“If Walgreens does drop out or fail to renew their relationship with ESI so they are not included in the network, patients will still have 56,000 other pharmacies to obtain their medications at retail,” she said. “We have a very, very broad network” that, for the vast majority of beneficiaries, ensures them access to a participating pharmacy within two miles of their homes.

Meanwhile, Hunter emphasized other options TRICARE beneficiaries can use to get their medications: a TRICARE military treatment facility or the increasingly popular mail- order and home-delivery plans.

Hunter is a big proponent of the mail-order and home-delivery program, helping boost participation by 9.9 percent this year alone as retail pharmacy use grew by just 1.6 percent. Delivering medications directly to the beneficiary’s home assures an uninterrupted supply of medication, she said, while saving money for beneficiaries as well as the Defense Department.

“I would recommend that this is a great time to consider TRICARE [Pharmacy] Home Delivery for chronic medications,” Hunter said.

But with more than three months left on Walgreen’s current contract with ESI, she emphasized, “There is no emergency, and there is time for people to understand and consider their options.”

Those who elect to stay with the retail pharmacy option but are concerned that Walgreens could drop out of the TRICARE pharmacy network also have the option of moving their prescriptions to another pharmacy in the TRICARE network now.

“We are not taking a position about whether patients should move their prescriptions,” Hunter said. “We are allowing this issue to play itself out, but those who want to can do so, and that will absolutely be honored.”

Because all prescription information is centralized, the only thing patients need to do to move their prescriptions is to take their medication bottle or tube to another pharmacy. “They don’t need another prescription or visit to a doctor,” Hunter said.

Beneficiaries also can elect to use pharmacies not included in the TRICARE network. However, Hunter offered a reminder that these users will receive only partial reimbursement for their out-of-pocket costs and could have to file their own insurance claim, where network pharmacies do that automatically.

“Our focus is on ensuring patients have access to the care they need,” including reliable access to their prescription medications, she said. “Our goal is to be sure people have the information they need so that they get their medications in a timely fashion.”


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Navy Rear Adm. Christine S. Hunter

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Article is closed to new comments.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

12/6/2011 1:17:35 PM
What about people who can't drive anymore? Walgreens's is the only drugstore within walking distance for hundreds of thousands of people. Failure to renew the Walgreen's contract is going to strip people of their independence. This is a bullying, greedy decision that hurts the most vulnerable people. DOD needs to intervene in this 'business matter' and make it work. Shame on them if they don't.
- Kathy, Chicago

12/2/2011 5:14:14 PM
The Walgreens near our home and work place is a 24 hr pharmacy and is very convenient, quick and the very good about giving pertinent information in regard to the various medications we take. Please and work out a solution that will be helpful to all. Thank you.
- Ruby Everett, Spokane WA

11/17/2011 11:51:40 PM
The Admiral advocates mail-order pharmacy, I live in the Houston area where it gets hot. There have been many news reports warning against heat damaged medications that got left in over-heated mail boxes. My medication must be kept refrigerated. If I can't get it from my local Walgreens, where can I get it?
- Roger Fryar, League City, TX

9/24/2011 11:14:06 AM
The person in the article does not understand the big picture. Where I live Walgreens is the only pharmacy that has 24 hour service. In talking with Express Scripts they have stated that Walgeens is the only 24 hour pharmacy where I live. My husband has cancer and is a chemo patient. In the last few months I have had to go to Walgreens late at night to pick up a script that was called in by the chemo DR. My husbands medical condition does not go by the hours of 9:00 to 8:00 the usual hours for other pharmacies.
- Sara Cummings, Utah

9/21/2011 10:56:21 AM
I believe there is a bigger issue here. With Express Scripts controlling BOTH the retail and mail-order pharmacy programs, what interest do they have in maintaining a robust retail program? Are they negotiating contracts with retail pharmacies from a neutral position - in an unbiased manner? Isn't it to the benefit of Express Scripts to reduce the size of the retail program by reducing the number of independent pharmacies, thus forcing more people into its own mail-order program? How can we be confident they are negotiating fairly with retail pharmacies when they may financially benefit from the demise of that component of the TRICARE pharmacy program? I do think the mail-order pharmacy program is a good way to save money; however, the service needs to improve for me to give it another try. My past attempts at using the TRICARE mail-order program were disappointing (lack of timely delivery and shortages that did not provide a full month of medication).
- Susan Allen, Portland, OR

9/20/2011 9:54:09 AM
Admiral, you don't get it. People must drive further or wait weeks for prescriptions that have a shelf life and/or need refrigeration. To me, this situation is political (lobbyist?) where some congressman is holding our benefits hostage. Maybe you will be guaranteed political work when you retire. We're struggling here. Is your head stuck in beltway mentality where you cannot see the forest for the trees? There are many of people like me who were unemployed and finally found employment making half what we made prior to lay-off. I cannot afford to jeopardize my health due to lack of timely disbursement of medications! This can be resolved to the mutual benefit of all sides. If not, foresee another class action lawsuit. Also, what happened to the letter we received last year from congress (after the Obomacare scam) that said TRICARE Benefit would remain intact. Bottom line, Walgreens is close and convenient for many of us and mail order is just plain UNRELIABLE.
- Mike wydra, Jacksonville, FL

9/19/2011 2:53:08 PM
My advice, as a pharmacist, is to find a pharmacist and create a similar relationship as you would with your doctor. That involves a mutual respect and two-way communication. We want to know what's going on in your world and we want to help. Reaching a desired outcome on behalf of patients and pharmacists is enabled by having a good relationship.
- Pharmacist, Tewksbury, MA

9/17/2011 12:15:48 PM
I have always used Walgreens for week-end, after hours, and a one time med and it is the only one opened 24hrs, 7 days a week. I still will use them for the convience and ease of use. Why should I travel 7 miles as compared to 0.5 miles. Hopefully before 2012 there will bea settlement.
- karen, ky

9/17/2011 11:11:56 AM
I thought about getting my meds through the mail, however....I don't like the idea of certain meds sitting in a 120 degree mail box all day.
- David Wilson, Tucson, AZ

9/17/2011 10:35:33 AM
Every other pharmacy charged more than Walgreens. When I inquired most said they did not participate in the coordinated system that included Tricare. For rural and mobile beneficiaries, the off hand remark thewre are plenty of alternate sources is rather condescending. While there are indeed plenty of options in Georgetown, it is a different matter in say, East Podunk somewhere in the Mid West Prairie traveling about the country in an RV. (An amazing number of retired military live this way.)
- George, South Carolina

9/17/2011 7:30:27 AM
Walmart is NOT on the list of TRICARE pharmacies. As the big pharmacies go, so too will the small ones. When we loose CVS and Rite Aid, we'll be getting our vaccinations in grocery stores. Something is wrong with this picture.
- David, Tennessee

9/17/2011 7:21:24 AM
I have found for the last 15 years that I have taken care of my parents--they have 2 rare chronic conditions carcinoid and MS with epilepsy--I have been to alot of different pharmacies, and this is the best. Our pharmacist at Wags contact the doctor's directly when there is a problem. And if a medicine is unavailable for whatever reason, production or prior authorization they are ON TOP of it. Also, Tricare is already raising the co-pays in October 1. Why is that not enough to cover costs? Bottom line, your local pharmacist who knows your healthcare needs and conditions is as vital as access to the medicines. If you are on the wrong meds a far away pharmacist in Express Scripts that does not know you is not going to help--actually an ESI Pharmacist once CANCELLED my moms antiseizure prescriptions because she said it was too many different seizure prescriptions . I asked her isn't that for the doctor to decide?
- Lourdes Fauly, Miami FL

9/16/2011 4:48:42 PM
There are plenty of other big pharmacy chains that are happy to give families their benefits. CVS, RiteAid, Walmart, etc... Patronize the ones that want us.
- Deanna Rosario, Fayetteville NC

9/16/2011 11:56:32 AM
"Hunter is a big proponent of the mail-order and home-delivery program, helping boost participation by 9.9 percent this year alone as retail pharmacy use grew by just 1.6 percent. Delivering medications directly to the beneficiary’s home assures an uninterrupted supply of medication, she said, while saving money for beneficiaries as well as the Defense Department." Hunter has increased copays to force beneficiaries to switch to mail-order and home-delivery. The problem with these two programs are that they are too inflexible for fast changes in medication requirements. The two programs save the government money and only save beneficiaries money because Tricare increases the copay if you don't use mail-order. Being able to pick up your medications from a local pharmacy is much more likely to assure an uninterrupted supply of medications. Folks it's all about the government spending less on retired military not any improvements in their service to retirees.
- David Frazier, Oklahoma

9/16/2011 11:55:27 AM
Will we be notified somehow if Walgreens' contract is not renewed in January, so that we can change to another pharmacy?
- JANET SARGENT, United States

9/16/2011 11:53:30 AM
There is not 1 Pharmacy within 2 miles of my home. Walgreens has a 24 hour pharmacy in within 1 mile of my husbands employment. Where can we go to find a list of participating Pharmacies? Almost everyone is a long distance call for me! Thank you for listing these... G.M. Hillyer
- Gale M. Hillyer, Big Flats, WI

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