WASHINGTON (KFOR) – A U.S. senator from Oklahoma says he is fighting to get to the bottom of an issue impacting Oklahoma veterans.

In 2022, officials learned that TRICARE planned to suddenly drop 15,000 pharmacies from its network, which would leave thousands of veterans scrambling to find new pharmacies.

Many of those pharmacies were rural and independent.

United States Sen. James Lankford worked to push the Defense Health Agency to re-include rural and locally-owned pharmacies in the TRICARE network.

“As you know, several Oklahoma pharmacies were cut from the Tricare pharmacy network with no notice, communication, or ability to negotiate after decades of faithful service to Tricare beneficiaries. Independent pharmacies being largely removed from this federal contract only reinforces a bias toward urban communities and away from family-owned small business, particularly those in rural America. While access certainly remains a concern of mine, I also want to ensure that the DHA has proper oversight measures in place to maintain accountability with DHA contractors. The way in which federal Tricare benefits are dispensed should represent the most efficient balance of access and fiscal responsibility. DHA should not relinquish all Tricare responsibilities to a contractor,” Sen. James Lankford said in a 2022 letter to the Defense Health Agency.

Following the push, Lankford says he has received reports of TRICARE’s latest “fix.”

He says the agency temporarily reopened the TRICARE pharmacy network in November, but he says the move failed to adequately resolve the problem.

Instead, Lankford argues that independent and rural pharmacies were offered non-negotiable contracts with “reimbursement rates far below cost that would have resulted in significant financial losses for nearly every prescription filled.”

In a letter to the agency, Lankford writes, “A notion that has been brought to me by several Oklahoma pharmacies is that an offer is not legitimate if one party knows full well that the other party could not possibly accept it. The message you are relaying that certain pharmacies are actively choosing to not serve TRICARE recipients is false and harmful. I urge you to be up front about how you are actually rolling out the new contract – without negotiation, favoring large chain pharmacies and urban communities, and without real action to remedy any of the problems raised by dozens of Members of Congress.”

He says the decision by DHA and ESI to create TPharm5 has led to thousands of active duty and retired service members losing access to their local pharmacies.

As a result, veterans have been forced to travel long distances to access their medications.

“In this instance, money has truly come before health of service members, which is disappointing to see in real time,” Lankford said in the letter.