USPS delays could put 14 million at risk for late prescriptions

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(Photo: USPS)

(CBS News) — Michael Porter, a former Marine, said he usually receives his medication from the Department of Veterans Affairs within three to four days of ordering it. His last prescription refill, however, took 10 days to reach his home.

“I was worried they just weren’t coming. I was like, ‘This is ridiculous’,” Porter, 46, said of the prescription, which he ordered on August 12 but didn’t receive until August 22. Because of the delay in delivery to his home in Maryland, Porter was without his medication, which treats his suicidal ideation, for three days. “This is affecting me — and it’s obviously affecting other people, too.”

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Porter is among a number of Americans who are taking to social media to document delays in their mail-order prescriptions amid recent operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. While members of Congress are questioning DeJoy today about the effect of those changes on mail-in voting in the November election, consumers say they’re being affected now, citing ongoing delays for everything from Amazon deliveries to mail-order prescriptions.

In the latter case, a delay in prescription deliveries can have a very real adverse impact. Porter, for one, said his mind started to get in a “dark space” during the three days he was without treatment because his antidepressant was late. But he added he was buoyed by the positive comments he received after he posted about the delay on Twitter.

More than 14 million people receive mail-order prescriptions via Medicare, the insurance program for seniors, and through private insurance, the Kaiser Family Foundation found in a recent study. On top of that, about 330,000 veterans receive medications each day through the mail, according to ConnectingVets.com.

“The United States Postal Service is an important part of our society and it does a lot more for everyday people including military veterans than just handle our mail-in votes in biannual or quadri-annual elections,” Porter said. “What it’s doing is screwing over people like me and thousands of others that depend on the USPS.”

During the Monday hearing, DeJoy defended his stewardship of the Postal Service and accused Democrats of spreading “misinformation” about his actions. Under questioning from Democrats, DeJoy refused to commit to replacing mail-sorting machines that had been removed from facilities in recent weeks, a move that raised alarms about delays in delivery.

Mail during the pandemic

The operational changes “have potential implications that extend beyond those for the election,” the Kaiser Family Foundation researchers noted. “Mail service delays could affect a relatively large number of people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It’s possible the ranks of Americans relying on the postal service for their prescriptions are far higher now than Kaiser’s estimate of 14 million people, since its analysis is based on orders placed in 2018 — before the pandemic shifted consumer preferences toward online ordering. That’s an issue stressed by the AARP in an August 17 letter to DeJoy that asked him to suspend operational changes.

“More than ever before, people are relying on the USPS to deliver their lifesaving prescription medications and other necessities, allowing them to remain safely at home,” the seniors’ advocacy group said.

Dead chicks and rotting food

The delays have also affected farmers and consumers awaiting packages, payments and letters.

At least 4,800 chicks shipped to Maine farmers through the U.S. Postal Service arrived dead in the weeks since rapid cuts hit the federal mail carrier’s operations, U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree said. Pingree, a Maine Democrat, raised the issue of the dead chicks and the losses farms are facing in a letter to DeJoy and U.S. Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sonny Perdue, The Portland Press Herald reported Wednesday.

In California, postal employees reported that delays had caused other snafus, including boxes of rotting food that attracted rats and vermin, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month. As for mail-order medications, the delays are most likely to affect people in rural states, with Kentucky and West Virginia having the second- and third-highest per capita rate of mail-order medications, after Ohio, according to another KFF analysis.

As for Porter, the former Marine, he plans to order his refills far in advance to avoid going days without his medication. He added, “I’ll order the next batch weeks out.”