Survey: Most Americans Would Consider Splitting Pills to Save Money If Medicine Remains Safe and Effective
Thu, 05/14/2009 - 7:43am
More than half of Americans said they would consider splitting their prescription pills to save money if their doctor said it would not be detrimental to their health, according to results of a national poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp. and sponsored by UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group company. Yet while 57 percent of Americans overall would consider pill-splitting, only 9 percent of those currently taking medications that are safe to split are actually splitting their prescription pills in half. Respondents attributed the global economic downturn for spurring them to find ways to save money when it comes to health care and lifestyle choices. According to the data, 27 percent of Americans currently taking medications said they are not taking their prescription medications as directed by their physician, including 18 percent who said they are foregoing their medicines altogether. Still, only about a third (31 percent) of Americans have asked their doctor or pharmacist about ways to save money on prescription medicines, according to the poll results. "Pill-splitting under the direction of a physician can be a simple and safe way to receive the benefits of certain prescription drugs at half the cost," said Dr. Sam Ho, UnitedHealthcare’s executive vice president and chief medical officer. "Some of our health plan customers have saved almost $400 a year by splitting a single prescription through our voluntary Half Tablet Program." Not all prescription pills should be split, including certain medicines that require a finely tuned dosage to be effective, or have a protective coating that can be damaged in the splitting process. Yet many common medicines that are taken on a daily, long-term basis can safely be split, including Crestor, Lipitor, Cozaar, Diovan, Lexapro and Zoloft. These six medicines, on which Americans spent nearly $15 billion alone in 2008, are among the 21 branded and generic prescription drugs appropriate for splitting under UnitedHealthcare's Half Tablet program. UnitedHealthcare considers medicines with all of the following characteristics as potential candidates for splitting with a physician’s approval: tablets that can be split relatively evenly without crumbling; medicines that have a wide margin of safety so that minimal differences in tablet sizes will not result in either under-dosing or over-dosing; medications that remain stable after splitting. A study published in the American Journal of Managed Care (June 2007) also found that consumers were willing to split their pills if it meant a reduction in their out-of-pocket expenses. "When consumers are able to afford their medicines, they are more likely to comply with treatment, and this leads to improved health outcomes," Dr. Ho said. Consumers who are considering splitting their medications should check to see if their health plan offers a formal program or a list of medicines that are considered safe to split. Also, they should ask their physician if pill-splitting is appropriate for the medications prescribed. The physician would write a new prescription for a dose twice the strength and one-half the quantity of the patient’s current prescription. One pill would then be split in half to match current dosing. Consumers who decide to split their pills should invest in a reliable pill-splitter. This device, sold in drug stores, helps ensure accurate splitting. Knives or razors should not be used because they can splinter pills. UnitedHealthcare plan participants can obtain a pill-splitter at no charge by visiting www.halftablet.com "We believe pill-splitting is an important option for both our health plan customers and employers," Dr. Ho said. "Customers can save money and reduce their co-payments, while plan sponsors can reduce their prescription drug costs." Prescription drugs remain the fastest-growing component of the nation's health care expenditures, totaling $216.7 billion in 2006, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This growth was due primarily to the increasing use of prescription medications. Survey Methodology The national telephone poll was conducted by Opinion Research Corp. on behalf of UnitedHealthcare March 6-9, 2009. The sample included 1,001 adults (500 men, 501 women) age 18 or older. The margin of error was +/- 2-3 percentage points at a 95-percent confidence level.