Military community beneficiaries who use Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies will have to go elsewhere to fill their prescriptions, as those pharmacies leave the Tricare network as of Dec. 15.
“Walmart declined several opportunities to offer more highly competitive discounts to continue to serve Tricare beneficiaries,” said Express Scripts officials, in a statement to Military Times. Express Scripts is the contractor that manages the Tricare Pharmacy Program, which serves 9.6 million active duty, retirees and family members.
Officials are adding CVS Pharmacy back into the network pharmacy mix, also effective Dec. 15, after a five-year hiatus. “This change provides more competitive rates for the Tricare pharmacy benefit and expands quality, convenient pharmacy choices nationwide,” Express Scripts officials said.
“We think it’s great news for beneficiaries that CVS is back in the network,” said Eileen Huck, senior deputy director for government relations at the National Military Family Association. “That will increase options for families.”
According to the CVS website, there are more than 9,900 locations in the U.S., and there is a CVS Pharmacy within five miles of most Americans. There are more than 5,100 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacy locations in the U.S., according to Walmart officials.
There are currently more than 56,000 pharmacy locations are in the TRICARE retail pharmacy network, including national chains, grocery chains and independent pharmacies.
The news that they were being bumped from the network came as a surprise to Walmart officials, however.
“We were surprised to hear Express Scripts ended our multi-year agreement to participate as a pharmacy provider for the Tricare network just a few days after Walmart and Express Scripts signed an agreement on September 30 for Walmart to serve these members for the next several years,” said Luke Kleyn, vice president of payer relations at Walmart, in a statement to Military Times.
Express Scripts officials had no comment on that statement from Walmart officials.
But the decision is part of Express Script’s obligation to get the best pricing for the government and the military. “Aligned with the best interest of Tricare and its beneficiaries, Express Scripts provides pharmacy network services that create an affordable, simple and predictable experience without compromising access or quality,” Express Scripts officials stated. “As a result of our continuous evaluation of the network to ensure best value for the Department of Defense, beneficiaries and taxpayers, Walmart pharmacies, including Sam’s Clubs, will be removed from the network effective Dec. 15.”
Kleyn said Walmart has requested more information from Express Script “to understand their decision.”
“We have asked Express Scripts to honor the agreement we both recently signed,” he said. “We know many members of the military, veterans and their families rely on Walmart for convenient access to affordable prescription and this decision will limit their options. We hope to come to a resolution to continue as a pharmacy provider for the Tricare network.”
He noted that military beneficiaries, like others, can continue to receive low prices on generic drugs that all customers have access to, with or without insurance. Customers can receive a number of generic prescription drugs for as low as $4 for a 30-day supply, or $10 for a 90-day supply. A number of generic drugs are included for diagnoses related to diabetes, cholesterol, heart health and blood pressure, and many others. Some contraception medications are included.
Express Scripts officials said they will make sure that beneficiaries who currently use Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies are able to easily fill their prescriptions at other in-network pharmacies.
There have been several major changes in the Tricare retail pharmacy network over the years. In 2016, officials announced that CVS pharmacies were removed from the network, and Walgreens pharmacies were back in, after leaving the network in 2011 in a dispute over drug discounts.
There are other pharmacy choices, too, such as using military pharmacies, or using Express Scripts’ Tricare Pharmacy Home Delivery.
Express Scripts, which has had the pharmacy contract for nearly decades, was awarded a new contract in August, valued at $4.3 billion, through 2029. The new contract begins in January, 2023.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.