Costs, wait times up for military families after pharmacy cyberattack

by Vern Evans

Some military families may have been forced to pay the full cost of their prescriptions up front — a financial burden that can total thousands of dollars — at some of Tricare’s in-network retail pharmacies in the wake of a cyberattack on Change Healthcare, the nation’s largest commercial prescription processor.

Meanwhile, military pharmacies are still struggling to return to normal operations nearly a month after the Feb. 21 hack began disrupting regular operations at thousands of pharmacies around the world. Change Healthcare disconnected its systems from other parts of the medical ecosystem in an attempt to limit the attack’s impact.

Most retail pharmacies have restarted filling and refilling patients’ prescriptions after much of Change Healthcare’s network regained function March 8, according to officials from Optum, the UnitedHealth Group subsidiary that oversees Change Healthcare. That includes successfully verifying that a customer’s insurance will help cover the cost of each medication.

Not so for military pharmacies.

“Change Healthcare is still working with Defense Health Agency officials to reestablish the connection with military pharmacies,” a company spokesperson told Military Times on Wednesday.

Defense Health Agency spokesman Peter Graves confirmed that on-base pharmacies have not returned to normal and are still manually processing prescriptions.

For now, that means customers will continue to see longer wait times at military pharmacies.

“Military pharmacies will give priority to urgent prescriptions, followed by routine prescriptions,” Graves said in an email to Military Times. “Each military hospital and clinic will continue to offer pharmacy operations based on their local manning and resources. Please be patient while pharmacies take longer than usual to safely fill prescription needs.”

One military pharmacy, run by the 19th Medical Group at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, told customers March 12 to come prepared with approval letters from Tricare or Express Scripts if they are requesting non-formulary medications.

“Please understand there are extended wait times due to the system outage and the pharmacy will be busier than usual,” the medical group said on Facebook. “We remain without a timeline for a return to full functionality and will continue to provide updates as the situation changes.”

Defense Health Agency officials acknowledged that some beneficiaries may have been asked to pay full price for their prescriptions at Tricare’s in-network retail pharmacies affected by the Change Healthcare outage. Those customers should file a claim for reimbursement with Tricare, Graves said.

Those who are still affected by problems at their retail pharmacy still have the option of taking their prescription to their local military pharmacy, where they can receive medication without a co-pay.

Beneficiaries can also contact other retail pharmacies in the Tricare network to find one that’s not affected by the outage, or choose the Tricare Mail Order Pharmacy, which hasn’t been impacted.

Change Healthcare has provided workarounds for pharmacies to help customers ensnared in the problem, including launching manual processes to submit information, checking eligibility for prescriptions, clearing prior authorizations and filling prescriptions.

The company also told Military Times it has begun sending temporary funds to providers, such as pharmacies, to help offset their costs until Change Healthcare’s operations return to normal.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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