How to Get Started with a Mail Order Pharmacy


 2022-11-07

For more guides on healthcare costs and coverage, check out Health Insurance + Type 1 Diabetes.


If you use insulin and other prescription medications to manage diabetes or another chronic illness, you know keeping track of your medications can be a chore. 

Calculating your dosage and timing, filling your prescription around travel plans, and keeping them in the right place, at the right temperature—it can be a lot to think about. And this is before we factor in your insurance or pharmacy!

Staying on top of refills can take up a lot of time and energy.

If you dread getting your refills or even procrastinate, you aren’t alone.

Fortunately, there is an alternative that can even save you time and money! A mail-order pharmacy service allows you to manage your medications online, skip the lines and know that you’ll have your prescription on time.

How to get started with mail-order prescriptions

If you are interested in using a mail-order service, start by getting to know your health insurance plan’s prescription drug benefits. 

While many specialties mail-order pharmacies exist and your neighborhood pharmacy may offer a home-delivery option, most health insurance plans have a preferred mail-order pharmacy provider. 

Your insurance provider wants you to use this service since it costs them less money, so you’ll likely find the lowest—or even $0—copays through your plan’s preferred mail-order service.

 You may even be able to see and manage your prescriptions in the same online portal where you manage your health insurance coverage.

Sign up for mail-order services by creating an account

Once you’ve identified your preferred mail-order pharmacy, you’ll need to get registered. This often involves creating an online account, though you may be able to do this over the phone.

If you’ve ever switched pharmacies, you likely know the process. You’ll need your name and contact information and your health insurance’s prescription drug coverage details. 

Because it’s a mail service, they’ll also need your shipping information (make clear if your shipping and billing addresses are different) and likely a form of payment.

You may be able to request a prescription be transferred from your current pharmacy at the time you set up your profile.

Gather the right information for your prescriber

Next, find out what information your healthcare provider will need to send your prescriptions to the right place. This information should be available in your new pharmacy’s online portal. When in doubt, you can contact the pharmacy directly to confirm. This will likely include a phone or fax number. 

National mail order services will have multiple compounding centers. Make sure you have the correct information for the location that services your state or region.

If your provider only writes paper prescriptions, you’ll often have to mail this to your new mail-order pharmacy with a form. 

Get new 90-day prescriptions

If you’re used to picking up your medications every month at your neighborhood retail pharmacy, you’ll need to request a new 90-day prescription from your healthcare providers. A pharmacy can only fill the prescription exactly as it’s written, even if your existing prescription has refills.

When requesting a new prescription from your doctor, have your new pharmacy’s information on hand so you can avoid having to transfer prescriptions from your current pharmacy to your new one. 

If you have an existing 90-day prescription to move from a retail pharmacy to your mail-order service, you’ll find instructions for transferring prescriptions on your new pharmacy’s website or app.

Things to consider when making the switch

One of the biggest benefits of a mail-order service is convenience. If refilling your prescriptions is a major barrier to sticking to your diabetes management plan, you are far from alone.

Transportation, busy schedules and competing priorities are all commonly reported barriers to refilling prescriptions and sticking to a medication protocol.

With lower copays, 90-day supplies and automatic refills, mail-order pharmacy benefits can streamline how you manage your diabetes and help you stick to your medication regimen better. 

The benefits are real! Studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes who get their medications delivered to their homes have slightly lower A1c and have fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

Nonetheless, there you’ll notice some differences between retail and mail-order services that may impact how well it suits your life and circumstances.

What are the drawbacks to mail-order services?

While it may sound like you can set it and forget it, managing your medications by mail will operate differently from what you’re used to and may have some drawbacks.

You’ll have to wait

It can take longer to receive your medications in the mail than if you pick them up from the pharmacy. 

Consider opting for automated refills, so that your medications are shipped as soon as they are available. They’ll know the date you last filled your prescription and should time your refill so you don’t miss a dose.

Not suitable for one-time prescriptions

Since mail-order services focus on maintenance drugs—or drugs you use on an on-going basis to manage diabetes or other conditions—they’ll often fill prescriptions in 90-day quantities only. 

The upside to this is you may pay significantly lower copays and will need to think about refilling your prescriptions less often.

Your insurance drug benefits may not allow you to fill a one-time prescription, like an antibiotic, by mail. This means you will occasionally have to fill prescriptions through a neighborhood pharmacy in addition to your mail-order service. (You probably don’t want to wait a week for an antibiotic when you need it, anyways!)

Medication adjustments

You may find it’s less convenient to make adjustments to your medication when filling your prescriptions by mail. 

If your healthcare team is introducing a new medication to try out, changes a dosage of a drug or switches you to an entirely different medication, you’ll likely wait longer to receive the new prescription through the mail and may have paid for a three-month supply of a medication you don’t need.

Consider sending new medications to a neighborhood pharmacy and switching them to your mail-order service when a 90-day fill makes sense for you.

Special delivery needs

Some classes of drugs will require a signature for delivery. Some delivery carriers let you set preferred days and windows of time for special deliveries.

However, if you have deliveries rescheduled or if your package is diverted to your local post office for pick up, this delay could cause lapses in your medication regimen.  

Some temperature-sensitive medications like insulin are specially packed to keep them cold.

It’s a good idea to unpack your medications as soon as possible to ensure they stay cold This packaging can occasionally get damaged and cold packs may leak or make a mess if they are left unpacked long enough to melt.

If you don’t have a secure place to receive packages or mail is regularly stolen where you live, you may feel anxious about your medication delivery going missing. This is understandable! The process for appealing your insurance to cover a replacement may be complicated and delay getting your medication. Consider this before switching to a mail-order service.

Try it out for yourself!

While this is simply a guide to using mail-order pharmacies, it’s clear that taking advantage of such services can be beneficial. From helping to streamline your diabetes management to decreasing the mental load required to take care of your diabetes, to lowering the amount you spend on medications, there are many reasons to give it a try. After all, managing diabetes is tough, so you might as well take advantage of the tools that make it as easy as possible!

WRITTEN BY Kourtney Johnson, POSTED 11/07/22, UPDATED 12/15/22

Kourtney Johnson is a registered dietitian who was inspired to go into the field after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She is passionate about sharing accurate nutrition and health information through writing and speaking opportunities. In her free time, Kourtney enjoys reading, traveling, baking and spending time with loved ones.