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 nearly 100,000 Michigan veterans and beneficiaries of our active duty military insured through TRICARE, the Department of Defense health insurance program, obtaining some common maintenance prescriptions can be much more complicated.
Current DoD policy requires that patients obtain maintenance medications either by mail or often inconveniently by driving long distances to a Military Treatment Facility. Unfortunately, none of these facilities are in Michigan, so the state’s veterans must drive across state lines to Ohio, Indiana or Wisconsin — each of which have only one MTF. Our veterans and the families of our active duty military deserve easier access to health care services.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in two American adults live 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 telehealth services. And Michigan’s own Sen. Debbie Stabenow introduced legislation last month that would improve veterans’ ability to schedule doctor visits.
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.
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 Michigan’s heroes and their families a little bit easier.
Gary Profit is a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and senior director of military programs for Walmart.