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Cotton joins with Congressman Carter to send letter raising concerns about access to local pharmacies for TRICARE beneficiaries

Washington, D.C. — Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Congressman Buddy Carter (GA-01) sent a letter to Seileen Mullen, the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, seeking answers about TRICARE military health system beneficiaries’ ability to maintain access to local pharmacies. The letter expressed concern that Express Scripts will reduce prescription reimbursements for 9.6 million TRICARE members in 2023. The letter also notes that 2022 pharmacy contracts will expire on October 24, rather than the end of the year. This will only reduce the pharmacy network for TRICARE patients and their families. Cotton and Carter were joined on the letter by 98 of their colleagues. 

In part, the members wrote:

“Pharmacists continue to be one of the most accessible health care providers in the United States. Over 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy, and 76.5 percent of pharmacies in rural areas are independent community pharmacies. As you know, in addition to dispensing medications and vaccines, community pharmacies provide services that lead to better health outcomes, lower overall administrative fees, and valuable in-person consultations with a healthcare provider.”

Senators Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Steve Daines (R-Montana), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), Mike Braun (R-Indiana), John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) joined the letter.

Full text of the letter may be found here and below.

September 29, 2022

The Honorable Seileen Mullen
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs 

Defense Health Agency
7700 Arlington Boulevard 

Suite 5101

Falls Church, VA 22042-5101

Dear Acting Assistant Secretary Mullen,

We write to request information regarding the Department of Defense Health Agency’s (DHA) monitoring of TRICARE beneficiaries’ access to retail and community pharmacies.

It has been brought to our attention that Express Scripts has reduced reimbursements for prescriptions dispensed at in-network retail pharmacies for 2023. These reductions may leave many retail pharmacies unable to participate in the TRICARE Pharmacy Program, thus significantly impacting 9.6 million TRICARE beneficiaries’ access to local pharmacies. Most recently, Express Scripts notified pharmacies and beneficiaries that current 2022 pharmacy contracts will expire October 24, 2022, rather than the end of the year. This will only further reduce the pharmacy network for TRICARE patients and their families, and may force beneficiaries to change pharmacies at a time when many receive annual vaccinations. 

Pharmacists continue to be one of the most accessible health care providers in the United States. Over 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy, and 76.5 percent of pharmacies in rural areas are independent community pharmacies. As you know, in addition to dispensing medications and vaccines, community pharmacies provide services that lead to better health outcomes, lower overall administrative fees, and valuable in-person consultations with a healthcare provider. 

To ensure TRICARE beneficiaries maintain access to local pharmacies, we respectfully request answers to the following questions.

  1. How is DHA monitoring current and future retail pharmacy participation in the TRICARE Pharmacy program?
  2. If future in-network pharmacy participation decreases, what steps will DHA take to ensure adequate access to in-person pharmacy services for TRICARE beneficiaries?
  3. Terminating the 2022 pharmacy contracts two months ahead of schedule will likely lead to a disruption of care for Tricare beneficiaries. What reasons has Express Scripts given DHA for terminating the 2022 contracts early? Please outline what oversight DHA has over Express Scripts, as well as what authority DHA has given Express Scripts to make these contract changes.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Due to the patient access and safety concerns expressed above, we look forward to receiving your response and working with you to ensure TRICARE beneficiaries continue to receive the utmost care from trusted, local health care professionals.

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