NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 23, 2005

UnitedHealth Group's new voluntary program encourages patients to cut their pills in half and save money on copayments. According to the Wall Street Journal, the program can offer patients up to $300 in annual prescription copayment savings if they buy pills at twice the prescribed dose and cut them in half. Because of the way prescription drugs are manufactured and priced, many pills cost the same regardless of their dosage.

  • The practice of pill splitting "has long been used" by uninsured patients, and a number of devices have been developed to make the process easier and more precise.
  • However, the drug industry has criticized the practice as unsafe because patients might not get the exact dose they need and some pills will not function if cut in half.
  • In addition, some critics express concern that pill splitting might be too difficult for elderly or disabled patients.

UnitedHealth said its program requires patients to get permission from a doctor to split pills in order to prevent patients with dementia or other health conditions that could prevent accurate pill splitting from engaging in the practice, the Journal reports.

Additionally, only certain categories of pills that have been shown in published studies or other research to be safe to split qualify for the program, according to UnitedHealth spokesperson Mark Lindsay.

Source: Tara Parker-Pope, "Health Insurers Push Pill Splitting As a Way to Save Money on Drugs," Wall Street Journal, November 22, 2005.

For text (subscription required):


Browse more articles on Health Issues