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Walgreens stops filling TRICARE prescriptions Sunday

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Posted: Friday, December 30, 2011 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

An ongoing dispute between TRICARE's retail pharmacy contractor and Walgreens will give military personnel and their families fewer places to fill prescriptions in the new year.

Despite expressing hopes it would resolve issues related to the renewal of its contract, Walgreens will drop from Express Scripts' network starting Sunday.

Fort Hood-area residents can switch their Walgreens prescriptions by taking pill bottles to other places, including Target, Walmart and H-E-B. Prescriptions also can be filled at post pharmacies.

"There are many other options available that are just as convenient and at a lower cost," said David Henry, senior director of public affairs for Express Scripts.

However, Megan Wike said the change would cost her time. The Army spouse lives off Stan Schlueter Loop in Killeen, just minutes from a Walgreens store.

"We have gotten used to having a Walgreens right down the street and the wait times have always been very quick there," said Wike. "It's definitely going to be a pain to transfer everything and then have to wait due to the large influx of people transferring, as well."

Walgreens and Express Scripts blame each other for the disruption.

"It's not just the (contract) rates, but the terms of contract," Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Walgreens, said earlier this year, explaining the origin of the long-standing disagreement. "Express Scripts wanted to have the sole right to define what is a generic drug and what's a brand drug and that affects how we get reimbursed for the medication."

On Thursday, Polzin said Walgreens made a last-ditch offer to negotiate with Express Scripts two weeks ago, to no immediate avail.

Henry said Walgreens drove the dispute, insisting on rates that were up to 20 percent higher than those of other providers in its network.

In a statement in September, Navy Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, deputy director of the TRICARE Management Activity, called the negotiations a "business matter" between the two companies. She noted a similar impasse between the two companies in 2008 that ultimately was resolved by mid-November, about six weeks before the new contract was to take effect.

But, Polzin said, this time such an agreement will not be reached by the expiration of its contract.

The admiral endorsed Express Scripts' mail-order and home-delivery program of generic drugs in particular for its efficiency and cost-effectiveness for the patient and Defense Department.

Walgreens is a big player in the TRICARE pharmacy network, with about 7,000 participating outlets that Hunter said have filled prescriptions for one in 10 TRICARE beneficiaries at one time or another.

Nationwide, Henry said Walgreens serves 1 million TRICARE beneficiaries.

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.

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