The Postal Service is a crucial part of health care for millions of Americans. And making sure the mail is delivered on time through the election is only a small part of the battle.
As an emergency medicine physician, the last thing I thought I would have to worry about during this global pandemic is the United States Postal Service (USPS). Yesterday, House Democrats proposed $25 Billion in emergency funding for the USPS. That’s necessary, since the COVID-19 pandemic has lowered revenues, and the USPS is facing a multi-billion dollar funding deficit with Republicans unprepared to budge.
Reports now indicate that mail sorting machines and mailboxes have been removed in cities and towns across America. Setting the politics of the Postal Service aside, I can tell you—as a doctor—how vital the post office is for the health of our most vulnerable Texans—and the nation.
One of the troubling trends that doctors have seen during the pandemic is that patients with chronic medical conditions, like heart failure, are avoiding hospitals out of fear that they’ll contract COVID-19. As a result of delaying care, these patients arrive at the emergency room in decompensated states, are much sicker, and require admission to hospitals that are already at capacity.
In Texas, and many parts of the U.S., older adults rely on the Postal Service for their daily medications. Before the pandemic, about 20% of Americans received prescriptions via mail. That number has only increased as COVID-19 forces many to continue staying home. Considering that Texas alone has over 3.5 million people over the age of 65, too many could be without vital drugs if the USPS can’t deliver on time. Reports from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which fills 80 percent of its prescriptions by mail, say that veterans have experienced significant delays in their mail-order prescription drugs.
Patients with chronic conditions like heart failure and insulin-dependent diabetes can’t simply skip a dose of their medications. Delayed medications in the best case will lead to unnecessary hospital admissions and at worse will lead to more unnecessary loss of life.
The USPS also plays a role in the cost of health care. Certain medications tend to be less expensive to the patient when ordered by mail when compared to picking up at a local pharmacy. Mail-order prescriptions can be particularly important in rural areas where the nearest pharmacy may be dozens of miles away.
Besides the deadly toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on Americans, it has also caused many small businesses to struggle. People are having difficulty paying their rent on time, and many are struggling to put food on the table. The USPS delivers pensions and social security checks which allow residents to pay for rent, food, and prescriptions. All of those matter when it comes to health.
Louis DeJoy released a letter last week stating that so-called cost-saving changes to the USPS system would be delayed until after the election. For health care, of course, the election-season moratorium on service changes means that citizens will likely only have a brief window in which their medicines and other necessities arrive on time. After November 3, it’s unclear what would happen.
The Postal Service is an integral part of our country’s healthcare infrastructure and shouldn’t be framed as a partisan issue. It works for all of us, not a particular party. I implore my fellow healthcare professionals—as well as all Texans and all Americans—to join me in advocating to protect the Post Office for the health of the nation.