Attitudes of Medicare-Eligible Americans Toward Mail Service Pharmacy

AUTHORS: Michael T. Rupp



BACKGROUND: For many years, community pharmacies provided mail delivery as a convenience for a small segment of special circumstance patients who requested it. Fueled by a movement among plan sponsors and prescription benefit managers to encourage or require its use, growth in mail service pharmacy began to accelerate in the 1980s and now accounts for nearly 25% of the market in the general population and a much higher percentage of seniors.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the attitudes of Medicare-eligible Americans toward concerns that have been raised about mail service pharmacy and its mandated use in the prescription benefit plans of public and private insurance programs.
METHODS: Existing published literature was reviewed, and interviews were conducted with Medicare-eligible persons aged 65 and older to identify potential areas of concern with mail order pharmacy services. A survey was constructed and mailed to a nationally representative random sample of 6,500 persons between the ages of 65 and 79 in July 2012.

RESULTS: By the cutoff date, 669 completed surveys had been received, and an additional 221 had been returned as undeliverable, resulting in an overall response rate of 10.7%. Nearly half of respondents listed chain pharmacy as their primary source of prescription medications (47.7%) followed by mail service (34.1%), independent pharmacy (13.1%), and other (5.1%). Responses of seniors residing in rural zip codes compared with those in nonrural zip codes demonstrated significantly higher agreement with several concerns, including lost or stolen medications, receiving the exact medication the physician prescribed, and the effects of exposure to heat, cold, or moisture. Two additional concerns approached statistical significance: the ability to speak with a pharmacist face-to-face and the ability to obtain medications quickly if needed. A total of 533 (83.7%) indicated they would oppose mandated mail order in their current benefit plan if it would cause the local community pharmacy they rely on for immediate medication needs to close. The mean risk of such an eventuality that respondents were willing to accept was 42.2%, indicating they would oppose mandatory mail order if there were greater than about a 4-in-10 chance it would cause the loss of their local pharmacy.

CONCLUSIONS: Seniors appear to be practical and pragmatic about the sources of their prescription medications. While most see a role for mail service pharmacy, they are also aware of its limitations. Many have needs they believe cannot be adequately met by mail service or have relationships with local pharmacies and pharmacists they believe are important for maintaining their health and well-being. As a result, seniors are relatively risk averse when it comes to the loss of their local community pharmacy, even if they routinely use mail order for most of their medications. Beyond their specific concerns, most seniors oppose any restrictions on their freedom to use the pharmacy of their choice on general principle.

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