San Francisco Chronicle Examines Use Of Pill-Splitting Programs By Health Insurers

The San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday examined how several large insurers are “encouraging patients to save money by splitting their pills in half.” Consumers can save on copayments by cutting pills in half because pharmaceutical companies typically charge the same price for a medication regardless of the dose. UnitedHealth Group, which last year tested a pill-splitting program in Wisconsin, now offers a voluntary program nationwide for 16 medications that the insurer says can be safely split. UnitedHealth says its members can save $300 in copays annually be purchasing 30-day supplies of drugs and splitting them. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs saved $46.5 million in 2003 through a pill-splitting program for the cholesterol drug Zocor. Critics of pill splitting say the practice is unsafe because some people might not cut tablets accurately, which could cause under- or overdosing. Some critics also have alleged that insurers are “endangering patients to save money,” and some observers say pharmaceutical companies might begin charging more for higher doses of medications if pill-splitting becomes widespread, the Chronicle reports (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/30).

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