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Federal Diary

Blue Cross's New Mail-Order Drug Vendor Is Working on 'Transition Issues'

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page B02

F red A. Kahn of Bethesda, a retired Labor Department economist, called in a prescription drug refill to Blue Cross and Blue Shield's mail-order pharmacy on Jan. 3. Ten days later, he received a generic drug, not the brand-name that his doctor insists he take. On Jan. 27, the correct medicine arrived in his mailbox.

Kahn is one of a number of Blue Cross enrollees who have encountered long waits in ordering their medicine from Caremark Rx Inc., which won the Blue Cross contract to provide pharmacy services to government employees and retirees, effective Jan. 1. Caremark replaced Medco Health Solutions, which had held the contract since 1987.

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Blue Cross officials said they are working to improve service and resolve what they call "normal transition issues" that crop up when the nation's largest pharmacy mail service, covering 4.3 million members, transfers from one vendor to another.

"We are actually performing pretty well," Stephen W. Gammarino, senior vice president of the Blue Cross federal program, said when asked about enrollee complaints.

He said that 94 percent of prescription drug orders are "out the door" in five days and that 75 percent are processed in one to two days. "That leaves 6 percent to deal with," he said.

Gammarino said Caremark has filled more than 800,000 prescriptions since the start of the year and receives more than 100,000 telephone calls a week from enrollees. The transition from one vendor to another also comes after the Blue Cross federal program picked up 130,000 new members during last fall's enrollment season, he said.

When possible, he said, enrollees can help speed up pharmacy orders by registering and filing requests to Caremark through links provided at the Blue Cross Internet site (www.fepblue.org).

Kahn said the Caremark staff was courteous as it tried to sort out the mix-up on his refill. Still, he suggested that enrollees plan ahead and order their refills at least three weeks before they run out of medicine.

Navy Job Cuts

The Navy has informed members of Congress that it plans to cut 11,851 civil service jobs this year because of reduced workloads, contracting out and reorganizations.

In a Jan. 18 memo to Congress, Capt. W. Scott Gray IV, the Navy's deputy chief of legislative affairs, estimated that 7,834 of the targeted positions could involve layoffs. But he said experience shows that layoffs usually end up being a fraction of the original projection.

"Involuntary separations are our last resort," said Lt. Erin Bailey, a Navy spokeswoman. "Voluntary early retirement, voluntary early separation pay and outplacement programs are ways we try to mitigate the effects."

Don Hale, who chairs the defense conference at the American Federation of Government Employees, said union locals believe that many of the positions are vacant and noted that Navy bases have shown little concern "that this is a reality." He said AFGE members will be asking members of Congress for help in understanding what jobs are at risk.

At the end of last year, 178,742 civilians were employed by the Navy.

Retirements

Ed Feiner, chief architect for the Public Buildings Service at the General Services Administration, is retiring after a 35-year federal career. He played a key role in the creation of GSA's design excellence program for federal building construction and renovation.

Sonia Finnelle, a paralegal specialist in the Justice Department's civil division, retired Jan. 31 after almost 42 years of federal service.

John Hardwick, senior deputy assistant director for information and resource management at the federal Bureau of Prisons, is retiring today after 42 years of government service, including 32 years at the bureau.

Steve Mournighan, deputy director of the office of procurement and assistance management at the Energy Department, will retire tomorrow after more than 36 years of federal service.

Geraldine Smith, a program specialist at the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is retiring today after 42 years of federal service.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com


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