Alaska News

Alaska pharmacies contend with delays for prescriptions, insurance claims after Lower 48 cyberattack

A cyberattack at a Lower 48 health care technology company is causing havoc at pharmacies across Alaska, which have struggled for more than a week to receive electronic prescriptions and process insurance payment claims as a result of the attack.

“It’s causing a ton of problems, and there’s obviously a lot of confusion among patients because they don’t necessarily understand what is happening,” Brandy Seignemartin, executive director of the Alaska Pharmacists Association, said Friday.

The issues began early last week after a Feb. 21 security breach at Change Healthcare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth group that provides electronic transfers of prescriptions and claims for major health insurance companies and pharmacies in the U.S.

The breach has caused prescription and claims processing delays for pharmacies and health care providers nationwide, including in Alaska.

Seignemartin said she had heard from pharmacies around the state, saying their insurance claims processing software was “completely down” for over a week, forcing patients to pay cash upfront for prescriptions or receive their medications “on loan” from pharmacies that would try to run their insurance claims once the systems were back up.

In Petersburg, independent pharmacy Rexall Drug Inc. began encountering issues processing patients’ insurance claims the day of the breach, said Catherine Kowalski, owner and pharmacist.

“Of course, we called our software provider, and he said, ‘It’s a nationwide thing, everyone’s down right now,’ ” she said. Kowalski said her pharmacy was unable to bill patients’ insurance companies for their prescriptions for days.


Because Petersburg is such a small community, she said she felt comfortable dispensing patients’ prescriptions with the promise they’d be billed later. She said they were able to switch software companies Wednesday, a full week after the delays began.

“It’s been quite a workload week — we had to go back and redo prescriptions and rebill prescriptions,” she said. “It’s kind of quadrupled the work, really.”

Although the impacts of the cyberattack had not been resolved by Friday afternoon, most but not all pharmacies around Alaska had been able to find software workarounds to the issues, said Seignemartin. She said she anticipated few disruptions to patient care going forward.

“As far as the scope, most pharmacies and health systems were impacted on some level, especially in the beginning,” Seignemartin said. “Pharmacists are doing everything they can to make sure patients are able to get their medication.”

But many pharmacies were also continuing to face administrative challenges as a result of the cyberattack, Seignemartin said.

“There are millions and millions of dollars in claims backed up right now,” she said.

Dan Nelson, a pharmacist with the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks, said the pharmacy where he works was unaffected by the attack because it contracts with a different health care company.

“I have lots of pharmacy friends around the state who have been scrambling, though,” he wrote in a Friday email. “Some are still dead in the water. Others have been able to sign emergency contracts” with other health care companies, he said.

The Alaska Division of Insurance was aware of the issue, a division spokeswoman said in a prepared statement Friday. She said the cyberattack was still preventing some health care providers from sending electronic prescriptions to pharmacies, and barring some pharmacists from processing prescription claims to insurance companies for payment.

That meant some patients were forced to bring paper prescriptions to their pharmacies, and that some pharmacists were needing to complete paper claims for insurance companies, according to Victoria Caltagirone with the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

“In some cases, consumers may wish to use a different pharmacy or be prepared to pay for their prescription upfront. No timeline has been provided yet for resolution,” the statement said.

A spokesperson for Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, a major health insurance provider in Alaska, said in a statement that the company was also aware of the issue, and “remains committed to helping members get access to the healthcare they need. We take this responsibility seriously and are working with providers, pharmacies, and vendors to ensure continued access to care.”

“Members experiencing any difficulties should call the number on the back of their ID card for support and assistance,” company spokeswoman Amanda Lansford said.

Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at