By Gary M. Profit
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 the more than 350,000 Washington veterans and beneficiaries of our active duty military currently insured through Tricare, the Department of Defense’s health insurance program, obtaining some common maintenance prescriptions can be much more complicated.
Current department policy requires patients to obtain maintenance medications either by mail or often inconveniently by driving to one of just 10 military treatment facilities across Washington, which has the seventh-highest population 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, 1 in 2 American adults live with a chronic health condition. Additionally, 1 in 5 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 or 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 Defense Department 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, lawmakers have taken other steps to increase access for veterans to health care facilities and treatments. For example, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, recently proposed a bill that would make it easier for veterans to get access to telehealth services. In Washington, lawmakers unanimously passed a bill last year to improve disability assistance for veterans.
And while increased access to doctor’s visits 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, Anthony Kurta, retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and presidential nominee for Under Secretary of Defense for rersonnel 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 Washington’s heroes and their families a little bit easier.
Gary Profit is a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and now serves as senior director of military programs for Walmart.