Rapidly Increasing Postal Service Delivery Delays for Mail-Order Prescription Drugs Pose Health Risks for Millions of Americans

  • Millions of patients rely on timely USPS delivery for their medications, and demand is increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, over 170 million prescriptions were filled by mail in the United States, and “through July 2020 … [there has been] a 20 percent increase in prescription drugs filled through mail-service pharmacies during the pandemic.”
  • There have been significant and increasing delays in the delivery of mail-order prescription drugs in the summer of 2020. All of the mail-order pharmacies that are heavily reliant on USPS for delivery of mail-order drugs reported an increase in average delivery times, ranging from 18–32%. In general, this meant that deliveries that would typically take 2–3 days were instead taking 3–4 days. Some delays appear to be even longer. One company reported that “we saw a marked increase in July in the number of patients experiencing shipment delays of seven days or more,” and another reported that “the number of orders taking over five days to deliver has risen dramatically since the onset of the pandemic.” A representative of a pharmacy industry organization informed Sens. Warren and Casey that one of its members had observed delays in delivery times of 49% for USPS prescription deliveries. Only one of the respondents reported that they were “not experiencing any unusual delays in deliveries” — but this company reported that they were more reliant on private-sector carriers than on USPS.
  • Delays pose potentially serious health risks for those requiring prescription medication. One company reported that “for the nearly half of adults in the United States with a chronic condition, timely delivery of prescription medication can have a direct impact on their health outcomes.” Another indicated that seniors were at particular risk, noting that, “[i]f the USPS experiences delays in delivering these prescriptions, our members, who are primarily Medicare beneficiaries, may have an insufficient supply of medication which could result in adverse clinical outcomes if not addressed quickly.”
  • Delays in USPS service are imposing new costs and burdens on health care providers, which could increase costs to the federal government. Delays in mail service are increasing costs and imposing new burdens on mail-order pharmacy companies. One reported a “35 percent increase in the number of reshipments resulting from USPS service delays” and that “[i]n July alone, we experienced an 80 percent increase resulting in approximately $700,000 in additional costs.” These costs, if they continue, may lead to increases in costs for consumers and increases in federal spending on prescription drugs.

Introduction

On May 6, 2020, Louis DeJoy was selected to serve as Postmaster General, in what has since been characterized as an “irregular” and “politically motivated” process.¹ Almost immediately after being named to the position, Postmaster General DeJoy — with the support of President Donald Trump — began implementing “a sweeping organizational and policy overhaul” — including reducing overtime hours and banning extra trips for postal workers and removing dozens of mail-sorting machines — that threaten the service and integrity of the USPS.²

Findings

1.Millions of patients rely on timely Postal Service delivery for their medications, and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased mail-order pharmacy demand.

Conclusion

Since taking office in May, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has implemented significant changes to Postal Service operations. In response to criticism and concerns that these changes have slowed the mail, he has indicated that “the intention was to put the mail on the trucks and have the trucks leave on time. That should not have impacted anybody.”²¹ The findings of this investigation, which contains new and previously unreleased information from the nation’s largest pharmacies and mail-order pharmacy companies, reveal that in recent months there have been significant delays in USPS delivery of mail-order prescription drugs, potentially jeopardizing the health of millions of Americans and increasing costs and complications for mail-order pharmacy deliveries.

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