The TRICARE Pharmacy and the Second Shift
Moderatix note: This post will be United States Military centric, as that is the perspective I offer, and the broken system within which I currently exist and attempt to navigate. Other voices are welcome and experiences appreciated within the context of the conversation, since I can not pretend to know every thing about every military experience from every branch in every country.
When I have to run several errands I try to put them all into one day. There are up sides and down sides to this, the upside being that I don’t have to drag myself into the main post multiple days, the down being that it is almost guaranteed that I will be doing nothing for the next couple of days except bonding with my sofa. Getting to the main post itself is an ordeal, figuring out if I can make it to the bus stop or if I should spring for a taxi, both which require considerable walking, and then it is another ordeal getting from one building to the next, timing getting back to the smaller post to pick up The Kid from her bus and getting home.
But life is full of things that require this type of planning, not the least of which is refilling medication. I saw that I was needing refills on my main medications so I planned this trip to coincide with some other business I had to take care of.
The pharmacy is a time suck. There is really no other way to describe it. Everyone, active duty, dependent, civilian contractor and retiree alike use the TRICARE pharmacy, and it is pretty busy all the hours it is open. There is a website where a person can enter their scripts ahead of time “to avoid waiting”, but all this really saves is the five minutes you wait at the window while the pharmacist fills the bottles, since they won’t fill a bottle for a controlled substance until you sign for it anyhow.
I currently take two medications that are considered controlled substances by the DEA and FDA. I am not familiar with schedules and what gets thrown on what schedule list and by whom, but I know that this adds extra hoops to my refills. I was not made aware by my doctor just how many. After doing the usual line dance involved to get a new fill for my pregabalin (because you don’t get “refills” on this, you only get new scripts) I showed up at the pharmacy window. I knew that there was going to be trouble when the pharmacist saw me and immediately called over an Army Medic to talk to me.
The Medic asked for my form. The blank stare on my face told him that I had no idea what he was talking about. He repeated his question, adding that it was the approval form for my pregabalin. When I told him that no one mentioned any form and that I didn’t have one he informed me that he filled my script last month on a verbal OK and was not going to do so again. I needed to go back and find the prescribing doctor (yeah, because it is that easy) and get the form. The thing is, the prescribing doctor isn’t my doctor, because all controlled substances have to be signed off by a doctor of a certain rank, and my doctor is a civilian. I have never met this doctor. He simply approves my meds, and my PCM is on leave. Now, mind you, I have already gone through several steps just to have this doctor order this medication with my PCM on leave, which is only one extra step than with her physically here.
As it turns out, not only is pregabalin a controlled substance, but it is also categorized as a TRICARE Non-Formulary medication. TRICARE classifies medications like this: There is a list of prescription medications that must be kept in stock at all MTFs called the Uniform Formulary. This is broken into two categories, generic and name brand. Then there is TRICARE Non-Formulary. From the website:
Any drug in a therapeutic class determined to be not as relatively clinically effective or not as cost-effective as other drugs in the class may be recommended for placement in the non-formulary tier, Tier 3. Any drugs placed into Tier 3 are available to you from the mail-order or retail network pharmacies, but at a higher cost. Prescriptions for non-formulary medications can be filled at the formulary costs if your provider can establish medical necessity.
I have to get my doctor to prove that this medication is better than all the other medications in the formulary for me, which wouldn’t be frustrating if I hadn’t had three doctors beat me with the “Well, if you don’t want to get better then don’t try Lyrica” dead horse the minute it was FDA approved. *ahem*
The rub is that apparently I am expected to personally know of and make sure that these forms are filled out and hand delivered. I knew that approval had to be given by an appropriate ranking doctor, but not that I had to get it in person. So Mr. Medic Pharmacist sent me over to find the prescribing doctor who wanted to review my patient history, again, because he can’t be bothered to run my Sponsor’s last four into the computer and look at it when he writes my scripts. I had to go find the doctor, review my history, and hand carry the form back to the pharmacy, only to find that the doctor came along five minutes later to make sure everything was fine (the doctor turned out to be pretty great, actually).
This has to be done every month, because non-formulary meds can only be given in one month amounts.
At any time a board of doctors can decide that something in the other two tiers is more cost effective for me and deny me the pregabalin, even if my doctors believe this is the best course of treatment, even if I have been on this medication before, even though I have already adjusted to the many side effects, and even if the Flying Spaghetti Monster hirself descended and said it should be so…
This paper trail runaround is a nightmare for someone with limited resources of energy and time. It literally took me two hours to fill one prescription bottle, most of that time spent walking from one end of the building to the other (with a fun fire drill in the middle!). This kind of running around puts significant strain on those resources, and for me it left me literally unable to do much the next day, needing extra hours of sleep and more pain medication to recover. Now that I know the process I can plan ahead, but the knowledge is part of the problem. We can be vigilant with our care, question our doctors in the precious time we have one on one with them, phone and email and re-check every thing, but still, some of us have to push our resources further. It’s terrible, and it shouldn’t have to be this hard. Not for our basic needs. Insult to injury is that this is what is going on in our military health system. Our troops and veterans are doing this run around.
It’s a great thank you. Really.