By Deena Beasley and Caroline Humer
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) – As Americans stay home to try to help stop the spread of a new coronavirus, many patients with conditions that require prescription drugs are being urged to refill their medications for a longer period.
Doctors, patient advocates and insurers themselves are telling Americans with chronic conditions such as diabetes that require life saving medications to make sure they have more than enough medicine on hand. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also says people should have extra medicine available.
“Typically for say a month or two you should have access to medicines, and any basic essentials that you might need to leave the house for,” said Dr. Neha Nanda, medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship with Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides health services to people infected with HIV, said it was extending the usual 30-day refill time for antiretroviral treatment and other medications to 60 days even without medical provider approval, AHF spokesman Ged Kenslea said.
Health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers have been pressured to address potential access issues around COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Many have responded by waiving copayments related to the diagnostic test and other upfront out-of-pocket costs.
David Dross, who leads the managed pharmacy practice at health benefits firm Mercer, said the industry is being flexible because of the unprecedented impact of the outbreak.
More than 1,600 people have tested positive for the virus across 47 states, according to the CDC. The effort to slow its spread has led to mass disruption including closures of schools, offices, and large gatherings like sporting events. They are thinking “if they canceled March Madness for God’s sake … we need to be flexible,” Dross said, referring to the popular annual college basketball playoffs.
In addition to diabetes or HIV, access to medicines that treat chronic conditions such as pulmonary disease and high blood pressure are of particular concern.
CVS Health Corp said patients who typically pick up a 30-day prescription should consider changing that to 90 days. It also said Aetna patients who typically refill prescriptions every 30 days can extend that to a 90-day supply.
Anthem is urging members who have a pharmacy plan that allows for a 90-day benefit to talk to their doctor about whether extending their prescription is appropriate, spokeswoman Leslie Porras said in a statement.
Cigna Corp, which owns the Express Scripts pharmacy benefit manager, is recommending that patients who currently receive a 30-day supply switch to a 90-day supply, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Luddy.
UnitedHealth Group Inc, which owns OptumRX pharmacy benefit manager, also said customers could call for early refills on their prescriptions.
(Reporting by Caroline Humer in New York and Deena Beasley and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis)