|By Stephen T. Watson, The Buffalo News, N.Y.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
The region's major health insurers are making it easier for their members to have medications mailed or delivered to wherever they live.
The insurance companies are linking up with national mail-order firms, big drugstore chains and independent local pharmacies to provide the free service, which has been offered for years but is now more widely available and a focus of the companies' marketing efforts.
"The market is demanding that we offer this to our membership," said
The insurers say members and their employers increasingly want the option of mailed or delivered drugs, citing the convenience and savings.
But not everyone is sold on the value of mail-order or home-delivered drugs.
Independent pharmacists fear that the out-of-town, mail-order companies are a threat to their business. Others are skeptical that delivery will lead patients to stick better to a prescribed course of medication, and they believe patients are better served when they can meet face to face with a pharmacist.
"Do you go to mail order for your physician, or your dentist or anybody else?" said
Independent pharmacies were among the first to offer home delivery, for free, as an extra service and a way to compete with the larger chains. At
And the insurer offers home delivery through a contract with a network of community pharmacies. Whether they sign up for local home delivery through community pharmacies or out-of-town mail orders, members will pay 2 1/2 co-pays instead of the standard three co-pays for a three-month supply.
"It's a level playing field for both," said
BlueCross BlueShield, for its part, offers mail-order prescriptions through
Wegmans serves mail-order
Instead, he said, the service frees up its pharmacists to spend more time on clinical programs and patient counseling.
"We want to be a full-service pharmacy," said Coultry. "The store pharmacies still play a very critical role."
As with the other delivery options provided through the insurers and the independent pharmacies, Wegmans customers don't pay anything extra.
Chitre said mail order isn't recommended for antibiotics or other one-time prescriptions, but it works well for drugs that are meant to be taken for months or years at a time to treat chronic medical conditions.
"Some people just have barriers to get them to the pharmacy every month," Chitre said.
Further, medication often is exposed during the shipping process to high or low temperatures, which in the extreme can make some drugs less effective.
Fiebelkorn said his pharmacist colleagues regularly see mail-order customers coming into their stores to complain of medication that arrived frozen -- or not at all.
Wegmans, for its part, keeps an eye on predictions of extreme weather or temperatures when shipping its medications, and drugs that have to be refrigerated routinely are shipped overnight in a special cooler with ice packs, Coultry said.
The local pharmacists also expressed concern about patients not discussing a new medication with a pharmacist.
The mail-order providers all offer 1-800 numbers for patients to call with questions, but critics say it can be hard to get a pharmacist on the phone and patients don't have many other options. "Your mailman isn't going to tell you what you need to know about your medication," Galluzzo said.
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