Tricare Beneficiaries Are Suffering. The Biden Administration Refuses to Hear Them Out.

U.S. Navy pharmacy outpatient instructor checks medication orders.
U.S. Navy pharmacy outpatient instructor checks over medication orders during a class at the Medical Education and Training Center (METC), Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kara Carrier)

Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., is a pharmacist who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and House Budget Committee.

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Tricare beneficiaries are no longer guaranteed access to their medication. Service members and their families who rely on their pharmacist for critical care, such as cancer treatments or knowledge of their medical history, are now forced to seek that treatment elsewhere.

The Biden administration has tools at its disposal to stop this. Instead, it is turning a blind eye.

Express Scripts Inc., a pharmacy benefit manager for the Tricare program while serving as a mail-order and specialty pharmacy itself, made the pocket-lining move of reducing the number of Tricare's in-network pharmacies by almost 15,000 on Oct. 24. Additionally, Kroger has announced that its pharmacies will no longer be in network because the medication reimbursement rates offered by Express Scripts are less than the cost of the medications.

As a result, nearly a quarter of a million men and women of the United States armed forces, military retirees and their families are at risk of losing access to necessary prescription drugs and treatment. Since that date, beneficiaries in rural communities have been left with no local options for filling their prescriptions.

These brave men and women dedicated their lives to defending our freedoms. We're repaying them with a health care system that puts profits ahead of people.

I brought this attention to the Defense Health Agency (DHA) back in October to discuss how we can restore local pharmacy access to these patients. As a pharmacist myself, whose congressional district is home to every single branch of the military and a large veteran community, I was dumbfounded by their response: No one cares about losing access to their local pharmacy.

It's one thing to make that claim to me; it's another to make it to the nearly 800 men and women who sent me their personal stories detailing how losing access to their medicine is impacting their health and well-being.

That's why I planned a roundtable with several of these service members, health care providers, and veteran and military advocates to sit down with the DHA and tell them how Express Scripts' move was impacting them.

The DHA declined our invitation, refusing even to sit down with the people whose health care they've played politics with.

People like Betty, who both manages a retail pharmacy and is a Tricare for Life beneficiary. "I am not the only one displaced by this; many of our customers are beside themselves trying to decide what to do," she says. "Independent pharmacies care for their patients. Also, we are a part of a large hospital system … and we have many military families who use our doctors and hospital. This creates an inconvenience for them as well as their families when they are discharged."

Or Jacqueline, who says this move "has made the difference between stopping to get medicine on the way home or going an additional hour or more to the nearest base pharmacy before going home."

For patients like James, a retired Air Force veteran, this move was more than a frustration -- it was a direct attempt to undermine small businesses. "Why would the federal government choose large chains over supporting small businesses?" he asks. "In my neighborhood store, I am not just a number. The service I receive is far better than the big box pharmacies. … Once again, the large companies are trying to squeeze out the little ones. When will the federal government stop supporting this?"

It's time for the Biden administration to answer James' question -- or, at a minimum, the questions posed by a bipartisan coalition of legislators I've led in two letters to the DHA on this issue.

I'm mailing these stories to the White House and will renew my call for a roundtable discussion in the 118th Congress, because service members and their families shouldn't be cut out of their own health care decisions.

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