Mail-order pharmacy system delays meds for some patients

Many insurers require that prescriptions be filled at mail-order pharmacies. "Rather than filling a prescription I have on the shelf, I have to tell the patient they have to go home and wait for a phone call from the pharmacy and arrange having this medicine sent to you," says Christine Pfaff, pharmacist for the Zangmeister Center, a Columbus,...

Many insurers require that prescriptions be filled at mail-order pharmacies. "Rather than filling a prescription I have on the shelf, I have to tell the patient they have to go home and wait for a phone call from the pharmacy and arrange having this medicine sent to you," says Christine Pfaff, pharmacist for the Zangmeister Center, a Columbus, OH, cancer treatment facility. "I can't give it to you today. Your insurance won't allow it." Health care providers say the goal is to start treatment as soon as possible, because delays can be detrimental to their patients’ health. "New diagnosis, with medications as good as we have today, speed to therapy is important. Even a few days can make a difference," says Curt Passafume, vice president of pharmacy services for OhioHealth. Josh Cox, a member of the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and pharmacy director for Dayton Physicians Network, says that 50% of the network's cancer patients are forced to use far-away pharmacies, and he has seen many cases in which patients had to wait as long as a month to get their prescriptions delivered. David Balto, former policy director for the Federal Trade Commission, notes there is an inherent conflict in allowing companies to act both as pharmacies that fill prescriptions and as the companies that decide which pharmacies get paid. "Consumers are losing the opportunity to go to the pharmacy of their choice," he asserts.