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Mail delays may affect medication supply for nearly 1 in 4 Americans over 50

Nearly one in four people aged 50 to 80 said they receive at least one medication by mail.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The timeliness of mail delivery may affect access to medication for many middle-aged and older adults, according to a new analysis of data from a national poll of people aged 50 to 80.

Nearly one in four people in this age group said they receive at least one medication by mail, but that percentage rises to 29% when the poll results are limited to people who take at least one prescription medication. Nearly 17% of people in this group say they receive all their medications via mail.

In addition, 35% of those who receive medications by mail said that their insurance requires them to do so.

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The data on the use of mail delivery for medications come from a poll taken as part of the ongoing National Poll on Healthy Aging, but not previously published in poll reports. The poll did not ask if the mail delivery was through the United States Postal Service or a private package delivery service.


While deliveries of all kinds have been delayed during the months of the COVID-19 pandemic, USPS delays have been in the spotlight in recent weeks. Congressional hearings on this topic are now under way.

In addition to those who said their insurance required mail delivery, 53% said the delivery option saved money, and 42% cited convenience. Nearly 30% said they chose to use the mail for medications that they took on a long-term basis and didn't need to discuss with a pharmacy team member. And nearly 29% said their doctor's office automatically sent their prescriptions to a company that sends medications by mail.

As part of a 2017 poll on drug interactions, the IHPI team asked a national sample of 2,131 older adults about their medication use and source, and focused on the answers of the 76% who said they took at least one prescription medication.

The poll asked respondents about the reasons why they used mail delivery for at least one drug. Respondents could give multiple reasons, from convenience to insurance carrier requirements. The raw data is available through the University of Michigan National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging.


Prominent Democratic politicians have alleged that recent reforms and administrative changes ushered by recently appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have led to widespread service delays across the country. At the same time, President Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled to the media that he is against emergency funding injections sought by Democrats and the USPS, which is expected to face extended difficulties in the coming months due to the combined pressure of mail-in ballots and COVID-19 disruptions.

Patients and medical professional organizations alike have voiced immediate and long-term concerns about the 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments handled by the USPS annually. 

"Across the country, and especially in rural areas, Americans are not receiving critical prescriptions," the Council of Medical Specialty Societies wrote in a statement published last week. "Without timely access to their medications, Americans may be forced to make avoidable emergency department visits or be hospitalized. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is extremely important that every effort be made to reduce unnecessary exposures."

Twitter: @JELagasse
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