Military pharmacies resume regular operations after cyberattack

by Vern Evans

Military pharmacies have returned to full operations, six weeks after a cyberattack on the nation’s largest commercial prescription processor disrupted normal business at thousands of pharmacies around the world.

Following the Feb. 21 hack, Change Healthcare — which verifies whether a customer’s health insurance will help cover the cost of each medication — disconnected its system from other parts of the medical ecosystem in an attempt to limit the attack’s impact. Military pharmacies were able to manually fill prescriptions in the company’s absence, but warned customers of longer wait times.

Most retail pharmacies restarted filling and refilling patients’ prescriptions by March 8, after much of Change Healthcare’s network had regained function, according to officials from Optum, the UnitedHealth Group subsidiary that oversees Change. But on-base pharmacies lagged behind for multiple weeks as Change worked with Defense Health Agency officials to reestablish its connection to that separate network.

The connection was restored the week of April 1, a company spokesperson told Military Times April 5. Defense Health Agency officials didn’t respond to a request for information about the status of the pharmacies.

At least one military pharmacy has continued to warn of extended wait times as it recovers from the disruption.

“Pharmacy services have been fully restored and we have returned to a fully operational status, including the filling of controlled substances,” the 19th Medical Group at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, said in an April 3 Facebook post.

Earlier, 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.

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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