NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 11, 2005

Although skeptics say the practice may be unsafe, a growing number of health insurers are encouraging patients to split pills as a way to combat the rising costs of prescription drugs.

Splitting pills saves cash because of a strategy employed by the pharmaceutical industry called "flat pricing," says the Los Angeles Times:

  • Although a gallon of milk costs considerably more than a half gallon, there is often little or no price difference between high and low dosages of medications.
  • For instance, recently offered 10 tablets of 100-milligram Viagra for $93.99, which is the same price it charged for an equal number of 50-milligram Viagra tablets.

Drug manufacturers use flat pricing to keep consumers from switching to cheaper brands if they need to increase dosage. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation:

  • Spending on prescription drugs in the United States rises more than 10 percent a year; patients who pay for their own medications can reduce their drug bills by up to 50 percent with pill splitting.
  • Someone who halves a double dose of the top-selling cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipitor, could save close to $600 a year; but even people whose health insurance covers prescriptions may be able to save a few dollars.
  • UnitedHealthcare members who agree to split pills are only required to pay half the usual out-of-pocket co-payment for their medications; a typical $25 co-payment drops to $12.50.

The savings for health care companies can also be substantial. The Veterans Administration, for example, trimmed $46.5 million from its annual drug tab in 2003 simply by asking patients to split Zocor, a cholesterol drug. "We were able to treat two patients for the price of one," said pharmacist David Parra, of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Source: Timothy Gower, "Another way to cut medical costs: Split your pills," Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2005.


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