This article was updated on September 14, 2020.
In August, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Bob Casey (Pa.) launched an investigation into postal service prescription medication delays. They sent letters to the top five pharmacies that fulfill prescriptions by mail, including Cigna, CVS, and Walgreens, asking whether patients have experienced delays in receiving their medications. The Senators wanted to find out whether Trump administration policies have derailed the Postal Service, causing harmful delays.
Last week, Senators Warren and Casey released their report on the effects of recent changes in the Postal Service. They found that the recent changes have caused delays in Medicare beneficiaries getting their prescriptions. The report found that average delivery times for prescriptions increased from 1 – 2 days to 3 – 4 days.
The Senators communicated with major pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers as well as the Pharmaceutical Care Management Alliance and the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy.
The Senators wrote: “The findings of our investigation reveal that your failure to fix the service delays caused by Postmaster General DeJoy represent an ongoing public health threat and a dereliction of your responsibility to the American public.”
The USPS delays are incurring extra costs all around for pharmacies, taxpayers, the federal government, and consumers.
Life-threatening dangers for Medicare beneficiaries and veterans
Delays in prescription drug delivery are not merely an inconvenience. Not receiving medications on time can leave those on Medicare in life-threatening situations. These delays can put older Americans and veterans at great risk for many reasons, such as:
- The need for drugs to remain at a certain temperature
- Risk of withdrawal symptoms from going without medications
- Risk of heart attack or stroke without vital prescriptions
- The time-sensitive need for vital drugs:
- Drugs for managing chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis
- Cancer medications, such as chemotherapy
- Essential diabetes medications, such as insulin for type 1 diabetes
More older Americans are relying on the postal service now due to the current pandemic. In addition, ninety percent of veterans get their prescriptions via the mail through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Warren and Casey are calling for new USPS Chief DeJoy, a former logistics exec and friend of President Trump who had no previous Postal Service experience, to be removed from office.
The U.S. Postal Service manages 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments per year, which is 4 million each day, six days per week. Nearly a quarter of the nation’s population depend on the mail for their medications.
Beginning in June, cuts were made to the USPS that include enforcing truck departure times even if all the mail is not yet loaded, reduced hours, less overtime, and the shutting down of mail-sorting machines in certain locations.
Delays in prescription delivery
After the recent U.S. Postal Service changes, not only are people not getting their needed prescription medications, but small businesses are experiencing economic fallout. In addition, food is going bad, animals and insects are dying, and packages are being delayed indefinitely. Especially if a person lives in a rural community, the delays are even longer, leading to life-threatening conditions.
Most mail-order prescriptions are for chronic, or ongoing, conditions that require daily medication. Examples are drugs to treat cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes drugs, asthma and COPD medications, anti-rejection medications, pain medications, anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, and more.
The Veterans Administration in particular fills 80 percent or more of its prescriptions by mail, and veterans have been hit hard by the recent changes to the USPS.
During the pandemic, telehealth has become much more common; now mail-order prescriptions are also a vital aspect of staying healthy and remaining at home. Studies have shown that using mail order prescriptions can improve adherence and decrease dispensing errors.
Susan Cantrell stated in The Hill: “The postal service has become a vital part of the U.S. health care system. Disruptions to the U.S. Mail will create barriers to health care access for those who depend on the Postal Service for their medications.”
What to know
Postmaster General DeJoy said that he would suspend any operational changes to the USPS until after the November 3rd election, after which time the changes would return.
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