GREAT FALLS — Military veterans and retirees - and some family members - in Montana and across the country who use TRICARE for their medication and prescription needs are under threat of losing easy access to these services.
Starting October 24, about 15,000 independent pharmacies will no longer be in the TRICARE retail pharmacy network. The Department of Defense said in a news release that even with the departure of these community pharmacies, the network will still offer access to more than 40,000 pharmacies.
Express Scripts, the TRICARE pharmacy contractor, manages the TRICARE pharmacy retail network under a contract with the Department of Defense. This network change will be implemented in preparation of the next TRICARE pharmacy contract.
“The Defense Health Agency is confident that the new pharmacy contract maintains the quality of the TRICARE retail pharmacy network,” said Edward Norton, Jr., chief of the Pharmacy Operations Division at the Defense Health Agency. “Some independent pharmacies are leaving, but TRICARE families will continue to have access to an excellent network of pharmacies.”
However, while the reduction in the number of participating pharmacies may not present in issue in more densely-populated areas of the country, in rural regions of the country - such as Montana - it becomes problematic, according to Troy Downing, the Montana Commissioner of Securities & Insurance.
“This is an example where a big national program is not taking into account the realities of rural states. I mean, that program may be tenable, may work fine in New York or California or Florida, but in Montana, it just doesn't make sense. We just don't have the number of these big box pharmacies turned to adequately, service our community,” the Commissioner says.
“Let's just say you're in you know, you're a retiree, you're in Northeastern Montana and you don't have any CVS or Walgreens or any of these large pharmacies near you, where are you going to go? Are you going to go to Billings or where? The problem can be be huge here,” continues Downing.
These long distances can quite literally mean the difference between life and death for veterans with life-threatening conditions, and to those veterans which may be disable to the point they can’t effectively transport themselves halfway across the state.
“It would eliminate any men and women here soon, and that just wouldn't be right. I would just like to add that those groups out there, they gave everything they had and they need these resources more than anybody else. By putting a burden on them, it's just insane,” says Mike Fors, a Vietnam Veteran.
“If this program came through, as we see it now on the federal side, it would have never pass muster in Montana,” says Commissioner Downing, who penned a letter to President Biden and The White House, asking for special consideration to the TRICARE Drug Program as it pertains to the rural nature of Montana. An excerpt from the letter reads, ‘Our state has one of the highest per capita veteran populations. Our veterans rely on community pharmacies for necessary care, medication, and consultation.’
The letter has been co-signed and endorsed by fellow Montana leaders.
“We should always be looking for ways to do things less-expensively, the cost of healthcare, the cost of covering healthcare is growing, and is expensive. We also need to make sure that we’re still providing at least the minimum service that a person would expect, or in this case, has earned and deserved,” concludes Commissioner Downing.
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