Changes to the U.S. Postal Service instituted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have caused "significant delays" in the delivery of mail-order prescriptions to millions of Americans, according to the results of an investigation by two Senate Democrats released Wednesday.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania sent a nine-page report on their inquiry to the Postal Service's board of governors along with a letter saying that their investigation found that average delivery times for prescription drugs increased 18 percent to 32 percent after DeJoy, a close Trump ally and Republican fundraiser who was appointed postmaster in May, had changed delivery policies.
"The findings of our investigation reveal that your failure to fix the service delays caused by Postmaster General DeJoy represent an ongoing public health threat and a dereliction of your responsibility to the American public," the senators wrote.
Prescription drugs are typically delivered within two to three days since many are temperature sensitive and patients may require them immediately. But the delays caused by DeJoy's changes have created new cost burdens that affect the federal government, consumers and taxpayers, the report said.
"We know Louis DeJoy is sabotaging the Postal Service — and our investigation reveals his scheming has slowed the delivery of mail-order prescription drugs, threatening health risks for millions of Americans during a pandemic," Warren said. "Our report is more evidence that Louis DeJoy's tenure has been a failure. He needs to resign and if he won't, the Board of Governors must remove him."
DeJoy was called before both chambers of Congress in late August to explain the cause of the delays. A former logistics executive with no previous Postal Service experience, DeJoy said the sudden slowdown in July and August was a result of the pandemic, not the policies he had instituted, which includes enforcing truck departure times even if all of the mail is not yet loaded.
The Postal Service did not directly comment on the senators' investigation. However, USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said that, though the agency was beset by the pandemic, it remains "committed to fulfilling our obligations to provide consistent and reliable delivery service, which includes the sacred duty of delivering medications to the American public."
"Our weekly performance data continues to show positive trends in performance improvement for mail service delivery and we are optimistic these trends will continue," Partenheimer said.
The senators reached out to major pharmacies for delivery details and patient complaints. They also spoke to the Pharmaceutical Care Management Alliance, the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy and patient advocacy groups.
Last year, over 170 million prescriptions were filled by mail in the United States, according to the report, and the service became even more popular amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Alliance, whose members serve more than 260 million Americans, said it had seen a 17 percent increase in demand for mailed prescription drugs "in March 2020 as compared to March 2019."
Significant delays were experienced by all the pharmacies that ship prescription drugs via the Postal Service, the senators' report said, with some taking on additional costs of $700,000 to $1 million because of the delays.
The economic fallout on businesses because of Postal Service delivery delays has been immense, especially as a number of small businesses have had to move their retail stores online because of the pandemic.
But the most troubling result of the delays is the negative health effects it has had on patients across the country. Retirees and immune system-compromised individuals experienced withdrawals and were put at higher risk of heart attack and stroke because they did not receive their prescription drugs on time.
"The steps that this Administration and Postmaster General DeJoy have taken to undermine the Postal Service have jeopardized the health and well-being of millions of Americans who rely on timely delivery of their prescriptions via the Postal Service," Casey said. "This report shows what we have feared all along — that Postmaster DeJoy's efforts are having real, potentially life threatening, consequences for people that depend on the Postal Service."