Retirees, Active-Duty Families Could Be Barred from Military Pharmacies over Pandemic

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Pharmacy technicians process prescriptions at Moody Air Force Base.
Pharmacy technicians assigned to the 23d Medical Support Squadron, process prescriptions Feb. 5, 2020, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force/Airman Azaria E. Foster)

Tricare users should brace for temporary military pharmacy closures over the novel coronavirus pandemic, Defense Health Agency officials announced Tuesday.

"The Defense Health Agency issued new guidance on March 30 directing that all military hospitals and clinics determine pharmacy availability as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic," officials said in a release. "This action was taken to maintain patient and personnel safety."

Those measures, officials said, could include ending access for non-active duty family members to on-base pharmacies; temporarily closing on-base pharmacy locations completely; and changing the way prescriptions are delivered, such as staggered or curbside pickups, among other options, the guidance states.

Whether the changes happen at individual pharmacy locations is up to facility directors on a case-by-case basis, the guidance adds; the changes are not expected to stay in place after the pandemic subsides.

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"DoD does not expect any of these limitations to be a routine practice but rather a case-by-case determination based on the severity of the spread of COVID-19 at a specific location," the guidance states. "If pharmacy services are limited, they will be assessed as soon as it is safe for personnel and beneficiaries."

The guidance also asks pharmacy officials to follow force protection health guidelines, including promoting the use of mail order or off-base, retail pharmacies; requiring telehealth pharmacy visits; reconfiguring waiting rooms to promote social distancing; giving early refills where appropriate; adding extra protections for high-risk patients; adding a prescription drop-off only process; and encouraging protective equipment for staff.

Officials are also asking non-active duty users to voluntarily switch to home delivery or use a retail pharmacy off-base where possible, the release said, although each option carries co-pays. Active-duty users must continue to receive medications on base, under most circumstances.

A February Defense Health Agency memo obtained by Military.com revealed a plan to no longer treat retirees and active-duty families at more than three dozen military treatment facilities, as well as to no longer offer those users pharmacy services at some locations. Hundreds of Military.com readers emailed or left comments decrying the potential steps and, several weeks after the initial story, a report to Congress detailing the closure plans did not include any steps towards shuttering some pharmacies for those users.

Military family advocates at the National Military Family Association (NMFA) said they have no reason to believe that the potential pandemic-related closures are a step toward that original plan.

"We understand that installations have to take steps to protect the health and safety of health care providers and pharmacists, and we don't have any reason to think this is anything other than a temporary measure in response to the coronavirus outbreak," said Eileen Huck, a deputy director of government relations at NMFA.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

Read More: The Latest on the Military's COVID-19 Response

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