For most Americans, refilling a regular prescription is simple — picking up their medicine at their local pharmacy on the way home from work or while doing weekly grocery shopping. But for more than 160,000 Pennsylvania veterans and beneficiaries of our active duty military currently insured through Tricare, the Department of Defense (DoD) health insurance program, obtaining some common maintenance prescriptions can be much more complicated.
Current DoD policy requires patients to obtain maintenance medications either by mail or often inconveniently by driving to one of just two military treatment facilities in Pennsylvania, which has one of the highest populations of Tricare beneficiaries in the country. Our veterans and the families of our active duty military deserve easier access to health care services.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in two American adults lives with a chronic health condition. Additionally, one in five households have a child with a chronic ailment. For the millions of adults and children insured through Tricare who depend on maintenance medications to manage any one of a hundred common chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, and epilepsy, for example, access to maintenance medications should be as simple as it is for the rest of us.
In addition to more convenient access to maintenance medications, Tricare patients should also have the benefit of consulting directly with a pharmacist they know and trust about their medications rather than having to call an 800 number. As a licensed health-care professional, their local pharmacist can discuss treatment and monitor for potentially harmful drug interactions, resulting in better, more consistent quality of care.
Change is possible. In 2016, Congress authorized the DoD to create a pilot pharmacy program that would allow Tricare patients to conveniently fill maintenance medications at any pharmacy and to consult directly with their local pharmacist. Unfortunately, the pharmacy pilot was never launched, and millions of Tricare patients continue to face limited local access to maintenance medications, direct consultation, and consistency of care.
In addition to the Tricare authorization, Congress has taken other steps to increase access for veterans to healthcare facilities and treatments. For example, Sens. John McCain and Jerry Moran recently proposed a bill that would make it easier for veterans to access tele-health services. Here in Pennsylvania, a former Army officer is hoping to drive change from the private sector in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs by creating an app called GetVetsHelp, which aims to help veterans find immediate resources for substance abuse, suicide prevention and other critical care.
And while increased access to doctor’s visits and other health services is important, these proposals will have little benefit for Tricare members if they can’t easily access the maintenance medications that their doctors prescribe.
Recently, retired Adm. Anthony Kurta, presidential nominee for undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, expressed his willingness to establish a pharmacy pilot program that will give Tricare patients easier access to maintenance medications. With the ball in its court, the Department of Defense should act quickly to make this pharmacy pilot a reality, and make the lives of Pennsylvania’s heroes and their families a little bit easier.
Gary Profit is a retired brigadier general of the Army and now serves as senior director of military programs for Walmart.