Tricare for Life Users React to Pharmacy Fee Increase

(U.S. Army/C. Todd Lopez)
Military.com | By

Over the last day, I have heard via email from a stream of Tricare for Life users, many of whom say they weren't just surprised by a Feb. 1 Tricare pharmacy co-pay increase, they were blindsided.

While costs for medications received at a retail pharmacy have increased slowly but surely over the last several years, the fees for receiving drugs through the system's mail order pharmacy, Express Scripts, have remained largely unchanged.

That was particularly true for generic drugs received by mail, which had long been free to all Tricare beneficiaries.

But even that changed Feb. 1, when the cost of a 90-day supply of a generic medication went from free to $7 for all users.

Tricare for Life beneficiaries, they said in letters I received last week, had understood that major Tricare changes happening Jan. 1 would not impact them. So why, they asked, were they being billed so much more for their generic prescription drugs?

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The answer is that the Jan. 1 changes and the Feb. 1 pharmacy fee increases were entirely unrelated, as explained in this story last week.

That shocked many Tricare for Life users, according to the slew of emails I received Feb. 26.

Some said it will push them back to base pharmacies, where medications continue to be free. Others said that shopping on base is not an option, so they are stuck.

Here is a selection of their messages:

Ms. Bushatz,

I am sorry but that was no explanation of why retirees who were promised free health care and medicine for me and my family are now being forced to pay even for the generic drugs.

The Tricare system, as well as the Department of Defense, has been a constant disappointment since I retired over 27 years ago, and the supposed light at the end of the tunnel is go to a base to continue getting them for free.

That might work well for some, but not when you live in Tavares, Florida.

So I now spend more than the pay raise I received. Why do you people think that we retirees are so inept that we don't get the bait and switch?

From a very disgruntled veteran who would like to know who is running this circus.

John Cohn

Retired E-8

U.S. Army

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Disappointing that we're being charged for our prescriptions ... I'm going back to the base for my medications.

C. Skrabak

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Amy,

I have been receiving retired pay from the U.S. Army for over 10 years now. Most of those years, there seems to have been a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The recent imposition of co-pays on drugs that had none before has not only wiped out all the COLAs I have accumulated, but set me back some to the point my pension has effectively been reduced to less than what I started out with when I turned 60.

Going to a military facility is not viable. McGuire Air Force Base is over 70 miles one way and West Point even more. Fort Hamilton closed its pharmacy. I do not know of any other military pharmacy in proximity to Staten Island, New York. I consider co-pays and deductibles to be evil, a malevolence dreamed up by small-minded miscreants whose sole desire is to discourage people from accessing the medical care system and to punish them financially when they do so.

The message is loud and clear: When you feel physical pain, you must feel fiscal pain. No money has been saved. Costs have only been shifted from a now broken promise to the end users who did their duty.

Peter W. Liander

Retired U.S. Army

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Dear Ms. Bushatz,

I am a widow who lives on a fixed income. I have found that two of the prescriptions that I need are not carried/not available at the military pharmacies.

I was told that they did not carry the lower dosage that I need of one prescription. For the other prescription, which I had received for several years, I was told that the only way I could receive it now is if I were active duty. What a joke!!! My husband was promised free medical and prescriptions for LIFE, and now I am being told that I will have to pay more for two medications that I cannot receive at military pharmacies.

I drive to Boone Clinic to sit there and wait for hours to get what I am able to pick up, but this is getting worse over time. Pretty soon, I fully expect to be told that I will have to purchase my own medication.

It is obvious that Congress does not truly appreciate the service of those like my deceased husband. What good are promises if they are only broken? President Trump says he wants to build our military; dishonoring promises to past members of the armed services is not the way to recruit people. Or does he plan to start the draft again?

My frustration is not directed toward you. I just would appreciate any assistance that you can give to those of us who really need help receiving the things our husbands were told that we would get.

I am glad my husband is no longer alive to see what is happening with our government.

Sincerely,

Janette W. Bryson

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How can "THEY" change horses in the middle of the race? I am thoroughly disgusted at the process after serving 23 years in the U.S. Navy and FULFILLING my promise to do what I said I would do. Now, after doing my part, they decide to up the premiums of the meds. Can something be done about this? Or are we all just going to have to sit back and take it? Sure would appreciate an answer.

Pat Gibney

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Ms. Bushatz,

In regards to the increase in Tricare for Life drug costs, it seems as though whenever retirees get any type of COLA increase, somebody in the government figures out a way to negate any increase by charging more for something (in this case, prescriptions).

As the vast majority of 65 and older retirees are on a fixed income, the increase usually results in a negative impact on any type of raise, resulting in an actual loss of income.

If the truth be said, there is really nobody looking out for us.

Jerome Alterman

U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)
 

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I guess it was a surprise for many, as well as me. In fact, the Fort Jackson Pharmacy was encouraging all Tricare for Life users to switch to Tricare Express Scripts. Even when calling the Fort Jackson refill pharmacy, they recommended switching to Express Scripts.

When my wife turned 65 and no longer was treated at the military facility, I told her to have her new doctor call her prescriptions to Express Scripts.

In fact, at one time, I was getting some meds at the local pharmacy, and Tricare for Life came out with the policy of one prescription at the local pharmacy and then I would be charged full price for the medication the second time.

It was very evident that they were advocating all Tricare for Life users to get on Express Scripts.

Even with the price increases, it is a bargain compared to those who do not have such a benefit.

But I truly believe the Fort Jackson Pharmacy was trying purposely to get folks to change over to Express Scripts.

Now with the increases, those who live near a military base will probably switch back.

I know, between my wife and myself, we take about 15-20 meds. Some are not generic. That would be over $140 every three months, which is still a bargain, but that's out of pocket and we will be going back to Fort Jackson.

Just venting for all of us.

Thanks,

Gary