Veterans have been particularly affected by mail delays because the Department of Veterans Affairs relies on the Postal Service for delivery. Jan Stowe, 74, of Traverse City, Mich., said that in July, for the first time, she did not get her prescription before she ran out of the Valium she takes for chronic muscle spasms. She suffered acute pain for four days, she said. “This medicine is to me lifesaving because it keeps me upright and mobile,” Ms. Stowe said.
Exactly how many people are being affected is unclear. The major pharmacy benefit managers, including CVS Health, Express Scripts and OptumRx, will only say they are closely watching the situation.
Some pharmacies say they are seeing some delays, like AllianceRX Walgreens Prime, which is operated by Walgreens, the drugstore chain, and Prime Therapeutics, a pharmacy benefit manager. Delays of three or more days have been reported, although the partnership said their customers were not suffering from any disruption in treatment.
“There has now been a noticeable difference,” said Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi, a pharmacist and a founder of an online pharmacy, Honeybee Health, which says it has 50,000 customers. While there are competing services like UPS or FedEx, the Postal Service “is by far the most cost-effective option for our patients,” she said, and other shipping companies depend on the U.S. mail service for the last leg of a delivery.
Honeybee’s rate of lost packages rose to about 5 percent in July from an average of less than 1 percent in February, Dr. Nouhavandi said. Prescription packages shipped via first-class mail took an average of 11 days, compared with just four or five before.
“Once it leaves our facility, it really is out of our control,” she said. The pharmacy is considering recommending that patients pay more for two-day delivery to ensure they get their medications on time.
While the number of patients relying on their mail “is not trivial,” a vast majority of patients are likely to be unaffected because they get their prescriptions through retail pharmacies, said Adam Fein, the chief executive of the Drug Channels Institute, which analyzes the distribution of medicines. He calculates that of the 5 percent of prescriptions in 2019 that were delivered by mail, 55 percent used the U.S. mail because the type of medicine did not need special handling.