President Donald Trump and his campaign donor-turned-Postmaster General Louis DeJoy got caught trying to rig the U.S. Postal Service for political purposes. Facing massive public outrage, and a date with angry members of Congress seeking answers, DeJoy now claims he will pause his so-called changes to the Postal Service until after the election.
Democracy and Americans’ right to vote aren’t the only things at risk.
When President Trump and DeJoy tampered with the mail, they also delayed prescription drugs for my patients and many others who count on their medications showing up in the mailbox on time, not two weeks late.
As a citizen, I was deeply concerned when I first heard President Trump admit he wanted to sabotage the Postal Service to undermine mail-in voting. As a physician, I am outraged that his ham-fisted plot to cheat in the upcoming election endangers my patients and many others who get their medications through the mail.
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy system handles about 120 million prescriptions per year. More than 9.1 million prescriptions were delivered by mail to Pennsylvanians in 2019. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing more people to turn to remote services for their health care needs, these numbers are probably higher now.
The patients I care for include people with diabetes. Some of them get their insulin through the mail. If a diabetic doesn’t take insulin when they’re supposed to, their blood sugar levels can increase rapidly. In severe cases, patients could experience diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be deadly. Diabetics aren’t the only ones affected when the mail is late. Patients who don’t get their heart medications on time could potentially suffer a stroke. Cancer patients who miss out on oral chemotherapy could see their cancer return with a vengeance.
As a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, I’m appalled that President Trump’s shenanigans with our mail are slowing critical medications from getting to those who served our nation. The VA sends 80% of all prescriptions by mail, serving about 330,000 veterans, many of them with illnesses and injuries sustained on the front lines and in battle. Delaying critical therapies our veterans need so they can better manage PTSD, lost limbs, and a long list of other traumas sustained defending America is not how a grateful nation shows its thanks, and certainly not how their commander-in-chief should show his.
DeJoy may say he’s pausing changes he has started to make at the Postal Service, including unplugging delivery bar code sorters in Erie and removing equipment in Lehigh Valley. His hatchet work is expected to have the most impact slowing mail in cities in battleground states, such as Philadelphia, which is estimated to handle 310,000 fewer pieces of mail per hour.
While the spotlight is rightly trained on the impact of White House-sanctioned mail tampering on the ballots voters will cast between now and Nov. 3, we cannot lose sight of the impact these delays will have on all our mail and our medications, now and after Election Day.
President Trump and DeJoy must do more than halt the damage they have already done. President Trump must do more than plug sorting machines back in and return mailboxes. He must rebuild trust in the men and women who proudly work at the post office. He must beef up postal staffing to clear his self-inflicted backlogs and delays. He must ensure the hundreds of millions of absentee ballots and millions of prescriptions get mailed on time.
And President Trump must apologize to every American for slowing down their mail, holding up their medications, and hijacking an institution as old as our republic that connects Americans to each other and to the things that help make our lives fuller.
President Trump undermined our nation’s pandemic response, and then washed his hands because the work was too hard. More than 170,000 Americans are now dead. With every challenge he has faced, President Trump has refused to take responsibility and fix the mess he leaves behind. His attack on the Postal Service fits this pattern.
The Post Service motto is: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Apparently the only thing darker than the gloominess of night is President Trump and DeJoy’s disdain for democracy and for Americans’ well-being.
Max Cooper is an emergency physician in Southeastern Pennsylvania, a U.S. Navy veteran, and the Committee to Protect Medicare’s Pennsylvania state lead.