Trend Toward Required Use of Mail-Order Prescription Drug Programs by Employees of U.S. Companies Examined
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday examined the "growing number of large employers" that "are forcing employees to get their prescription drugs through the mail rather than a local pharmacy." International Business Machines, Southwest Airlines, General Motors, Ford Motor, DaimlerChrysler and several municipal governments recently initiated such prescription drug mail-order programs under which any prescription refilled more than twice must be ordered through the mail. Maintenance medications, or those that patients take for long periods of time, must be ordered through the mail, but other drugs, such as antibiotics, still can be obtained through a local drugstore. According to a recent Hewitt Associates survey of more than 600 employers that provide benefits to more than 15 million employees, 21% had a drug mail-order program in place or planned to create one this year. Further, 48% said they were considering such a plan. Medco Health Solutions, which operates one of the largest mail-order pharmacies in the United States, said that the number of people enrolled in its mandatory-mail program doubled from last year to a total of 4.7 million people. According to the Journal, the main reason for requiring employees to receive medications through mail order is cost -- receiving drugs through mail-order companies can be less expensive than filling prescriptions at a local pharmacy because of lower overhead associated with mail-order companies. In addition, many pharmacy benefit managers working with companies run mail-order programs and inform companies they can receive large discounts if they use them. According to the Journal, mail-order programs "[o]n the surface" are good for patients because they can offer convenience, lower costs and less likelihood for prescription errors because some companies use automated ordering systems. However, the "surge in new mail-order customers" is creating delays in some systems, the Journal reports. Medco officials said that it now takes 10 to 11 days to fill a prescription, compared with five to six days previously. In case of delays, people can get a seven-day supply of the drug at a local pharmacy paid for by Medco. According to Medco officials, the company's mail-order program has a 96% satisfaction rating (Martinez, Wall Street Journal, 2/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.