AP/Philadelphia Inquirer Examines Health Insurer Support for Pill Splitting
The AP/Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday examined recent efforts by health insurers to reduce costs by encouraging pill splitting. Although seniors "with the help of their doctors and pharmacists" have split pills to lower costs "for years," insurers began promoting the practice after studies found "it can save massive amounts on purchasing drugs -- a key driver of increased premiums," the AP/Inquirer reports.
For example, UnitedHealthcare, the nation's second-largest health insurer, announced this month that it will reduce by half the price of drugs and copayments of patients who split double-strength medications, which "don't cost much more than single-strength ones," according to the AP/Inquirer. The Department of Veterans Affairs in November 2004 announced pill splitting by 1.1 million beneficiaries using the anti-cholesterol medication Zocor saved the agency $46.5 million annually, and the Regence Group saves $5 million annually through pill splitting.
Tim Heady, CEO of UnitedHealth Pharmaceutical Solutions, said the insurer has compiled a list of 15 medications that can be split easily without adverse effects. Heady said the company has determined that unevenly splitting the specified pills -- including Pfizer's anti-depressant Zoloft and cholesterol drug Lipitor -- "doesn't really have an impact on efficacy or safety."
However, Pfizer Director of Medical Alliances Mark Horn warns that splitting pills is an "unlabeled use of our medicines" that has not been thoroughly tested.
FDA officials also warn that risks associated with pill splitting include "forgetting to split pills, slicing time-release pills or unevenly breaking ones for which a precise daily dosage is needed," the AP/Inquirer reports. FDA Director of Pharmacy Affairs Tom McGinnis said patients should only split pills under the guidance of a physician to avoid such risks (Nakashima, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/13).