In victory for retail pharmacy, military levels TRICARE prescription purchasing field

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In a ruling hailed by retail pharmacy leaders, the Department of Defense now is insisting that drug manufacturers extend the same discounts for prescription drugs sold at community pharmacies that the military gets for medicines dispensed through base dispensaries or mail order.

The Pentagon issued a clarification of its purchasing rules on Oct. 15, telling pharmaceutical suppliers that they must offer discount prices for retail prescriptions dispensed to members of the military and their families under the TRICARE military health program. Essentially, the final rule helps level the playing field between retail pharmacies and other outlets that dispense medicines to TRICARE beneficiaries, like on-base and mail-order facilities.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores hailed the clarification as a victory in the retail pharmacy industry’s long campaign to extend full freedom of choice to prescription customers serving in the nation’s armed forces. The final rule “validates the NACDS-backed position that TRICARE beneficiaries should have the ability to choose where they access their prescription medications and other pharmacy services,” noted the group on Oct. 19.

“NACDS has consistently advocated for the ability of military men and women and their families to choose where to obtain their prescriptions, and we commend the Department of Defense for arriving at this conclusion,” said NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson. “NACDS emphasizes the important role of community pharmacies in helping patients take their medications correctly, thus improving health and reducing long-term healthcare costs. The brave soldiers and their families who serve, and who have served, our nation should have the ability to choose community pharmacies.”

The rule, which takes effect Dec. 27, maintains that the discounts apply to all drugs dispensed after Jan. 28, 2008. The timing of the discounts, NACDS noted, “had been a subject of consideration during an official comment period that preceded the issuance of Friday’s final rule.”

The Defense Department predicted it will reap nearly $6.5 billion in total savings over the next five fiscal years as a result of the pricing discounts.

Nevertheless, the clarification on pricing discounts for retail prescriptions marked a step on the road to a level playing field for TRICARE, not a final victory. The ultimate goal: a law that assures that members of the military and their families can have their prescriptions filled anywhere they choose, including their local retail pharmacy, without incurring any financial penalties.

To that end, NACDS noted that it is “advocating in the legislative arena for policies consistent with protecting the right of soldiers to choose where to receive their prescriptions and pharmacy services.” Congress made some progress toward that goal in June, when the House of Representatives passed a continued freeze in retail pharmacy co-payments as part of a larger defense spending authorization bill. But the measure has yet to pass both houses of Congress.

“NACDS is urging Senate passage—and ultimately enactment—of similar legislation in the anticipated post-election session of Congress,” the group noted.

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