By Donna Miles, American Forces Press ServiceSeptember 16, 2011
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 Agency, 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."