Cyberattack Against Commercial Prescription Program Hamstrings Military Pharmacies Around the World

by Braxton Taylor

Pharmacies at military bases worldwide have been facing disruptions because of a cyberattack that shut down the commercial prescription processing program the military health system uses, the Defense Health Agency said in a statement this week.

“Each military hospital and clinic will continue to offer pharmacy operations based on their local manning and resources,” the agency said in a statement Thursday. “Please be patient while pharmacies take longer than usual to safely fill prescription needs.”

Change Healthcare, one of the largest prescription processors in the U.S., first disclosed Wednesday that its network had been disrupted by a cyberattack. The issue was still unresolved as of Friday morning, according to the most recent update posted online by the company.

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“Change Healthcare is experiencing a cyber security issue, and our experts are working to address the matter,” said the Friday morning update, which was the exact same as every other periodic update since Wednesday.

“Once we became aware of the outside threat, in the interest of protecting our partners and patients, we took immediate action to disconnect our systems to prevent further impact,” the notice added.

UnitedHealth Group, which owns Change Healthcare, said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it suspects a nation-state is behind the attack.

The outage, which has reportedly also caused disruptions at retail pharmacies across the U.S., means that military pharmacies will fill prescriptions manually, the DHA said in its statement.

Pharmacists will give priority to “urgent” prescriptions, followed by routine ones, the agency said.

U.S. military clinics stateside and abroad were warning patients of issues on social media. Some, such as Bassett Army Community Hospital in Alaska, the 22nd Medical Group Pharmacy at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas and the 72nd Medical Group at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, said Thursday they could continue dispensing already completed prescriptions but were having difficulty filling new prescriptions.

“To minimize potential errors and costs, we encourage you to allow us to fill your prescription once our system is back online,” the 22nd Medical Group wrote on Facebook. “Please note that obtaining prescriptions at a non-[military treatment facility] pharmacy may incur additional copay/charges.”

The 374th Medical Group at Yokota Air Base in Japan initially posted a similar message Thursday about an inability to fill new prescriptions, but later posted an update that the DHA had “directed a solution to restore all prescription-filling capabilities.”

“However, please understand there will be delays with processing,” the 374th Medical Group posted late Thursday. “There is currently no estimated timeline for system restoration.”

Several other clinics, including Kadena Medical Clinic on Okinawa and Scott Air Force Base Clinic in Illinois, also warned about delays and longer-than-normal wait times because of the outage. Naval Health Clinic Hawaii similarly warned of longer wait times, but added that its pharmacies at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and Marine Corps Base Hawaii had “implemented down-time procedures and are able to fill needed prescriptions.”

“If you have remaining medication at home, we ask that you please consider waiting until the issue has been resolved,” the Hawaii clinic posted on Facebook.

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