Los Angeles Times Examines Use of Pill Splitting To Reduce Prescription Drug Costs
The Los Angeles Times on Monday examined the practice of splitting pills in half as a way for consumers and insurers to reduce spending on prescription drugs. Patients can ask their doctors to prescribe tablets with double the dose they take and then cut the pills in half at home, thereby resulting in twice the number of doses for the same cost.
According to the Times, pill splitting saves money because pharmaceutical companies typically sell drugs at a flat price. For example, 10 tablets of 100-milligram Viagra generally retails for the same price as 10 50-milligram tablets.
Insurers are increasingly promoting pill splitting as a way for members to save money on prescription drugs, the Times reports. For instance, UnitedHealthcare has asked members in Wisconsin to discuss the option with their doctors, and patients who do so can receive discounts on drug copayments.
Tim Heady, CEO of UnitedHealthcare's Pharmaceutical Solutions, said, "Consumers are asking what they can do to bring their costs down. This program provides better access to important drugs and can improve compliance with these medicines by helping them to be more affordable and accessible to more people." The insurer plans to launch the program nationwide sometime this year.
Pill splitting also is encouraged some state Medicaid programs and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, with the VA saving $46.5 million in drug costs by asking patient to split the cholesterol medication Zocor, according to the Times.
While many consumers and insurers welcome pill splitting as a way to reduce costs, representatives for pharmaceutical manufacturers and drugstore chains say the practice is potentially unsafe.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores oppose pill splitting, saying that cutting pills into two equal halves is difficult, particularly for the elderly. In addition, uneven splitting can lead to erratic doses, critics say.
PHRMA spokesperson Jeff Trewhitt said, "It's a lot of responsibility to put on the patient and doctor" (Gower, Los Angeles Times, 8/8).