VA Health Care:

Continuing Oversight Needed to Achieve Formulary Goals

GAO-01-998T: Published: Jul 24, 2001. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 2001.

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Cynthia A. Bascetta
(202) 512-7207


Office of Public Affairs
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Although the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made significant progress establishing a national formulary that has generally met with acceptance by prescribers and patients, VA oversight has not fully ensured standardization of its drug benefit nationwide. The three medical centers GAO visited did not comply with the national formulary. Specifically, two of the three medical centers omitted more than 140 required national formulary drugs, and all three facilities inappropriately modified the national formulary list of required drugs for certain drug classes by adding or omitting some drugs. In addition, as VA policy allows, Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) added drugs to supplement the national formulary ranging from five drugs at one VISN to 63 drugs at another. However, VA lacked criteria for determining the appropriateness of the actions networks took to add these drugs. In addition to problems standardizing the national formulary, GAO identified weaknesses in the nonformulary approval process. Although the national formulary directive requires certain criteria for approving nonformulary drugs, it does not prescribe a specific nonformulary approval process. As a result, the processes health care providers must follow to obtain nonformulary drugs differ among VA facilities on how requests are made, who receives them, who approves them, and how long it takes to obtain approval. GAO found that the length of time to approve nonformulary drugs averages nine days, but it can be as short as a few minutes in some medical centers. Some VISNs have not established processes to collect and analyze data on nonformulary requests. As a result, VA does not know if approved requests meet its established criteria or if denied requests are appropriate. This testimony summarizes the December 1999 report, HEHS-00-34 and the January 2001 report, GAO-01-183.

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