More than 99 percent of veterans using an outpatient mail pharmacy program received their prescription packages within Veterans Affairs’ 10-day timeliness goal, according to a report on the program.
The program functions as a virtual extension of VA medical facility pharmacies by delivering prescription medications and supplies directly by mail to veteran patients. There are seven locations across the country that support processing and delivering pharmaceuticals to patients. The goal is to deliver medications and supplies to the patient within 10 calendar days of the request.
In September 2015, the VA’s Office of Inspector General, the agency’s watchdog arm, received a congressional request to conduct a review of the prescription processing and timeliness of delivery for the outpatient pharmacy program.
The inquiry asked the Inspector General to test controls designed to ensure that pharmaceuticals are secure and safely processed; determine whether prescription orders are processed for delivery within the established time frames, and investigate whether prescription tracking information is accessible and reliable to veterans.
The program is a big part of the VA’s pharmacy operations.
The VA reported spending nearly $6.1 billion on pharmaceuticals in fiscal year 2015 and delivered prescribed medication and supplies to nearly 5 million veterans. The outpatient system represented approximately $2.8 billion of that and the system processes approximately 80 percent of the VA outpatient prescriptions.
The Inspector General report, released last week, gave generally glowing marks to the outpatient mail pharmacy program.
The report found the VA had automated controls and pharmacists in place to help ensure pharmaceuticals were secure and safely processed. It also found that physical security was maintained at the facility and in restricted areas. During site visits to the seven locations, inspectors tried to gain access to restricted areas but were effectively denied.
The report also found that controls were in place to ensure that pharmaceuticals were dispensed safely before delivery to the veteran. A quality control system rejected bottles of medications when an incorrect weight was detected or when the bar code did not scan correctly. When an order was incorrectly scanned or incomplete, the system stopped production until action was taken, the report said.
Responding to the report, the VA pointed out that the system has maintained the highest customer satisfaction score in the mail order industry for the past six years based on customer satisfaction surveys completed by J.D. Power.
How the VA dispenses its pharmaceuticals has become a controversial issue. Last year, a Senate committee’s report into overprescription of powerful painkilling drugs at a Tomah, Wis., VA hospital slammed the Inspector General for discounting key evidence, narrowing its inquiry and failing to make its report on the matter public.
The office’s failure to publish results of an investigation into the Tomah facility, which found that two providers there had been prescribing alarming levels of narcotics, “compromised veteran care,” the Senate committee report found.
The VA at Tomah has been an issue in the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, with attack ads from both sides blaming incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and his Democratic opponent Russ Feingold, who was in the Senate until 2010, for not doing enough to prevent abuses at the facility.