How to get an advance supply of critical medicine to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak and quarantine

Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • Public health and medical professionals are urging Americans, especially those who are older and who have underlying health conditions, to get an advance supply of critical medications so it’s easier to stay home as the novel coronavirus spreads.
  • Doing so is also important in case you do get ill from the virus and must self-quarantine.
  • But it’s important not to hoard medications, leading to group panic and shortages.
  • Pharmaceutical and public health experts talked to Insider about exactly how much advance medication some people need, how to get it, and what barriers you may face.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Monday, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier recommended that people who are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from the novel coronavirus – especially those who are over 80, have underlying health conditions, or both – to “take action.”

Specifically, Messonnier said to “have supplies on hand like routine medications for blood pressure and diabetes, and over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies to treat fever and other symptoms.”

The message was reiterated by a panel of infectious-disease experts at the University of California, San Francisco, who advise high-risk individuals to “stockpile your critical prescription medications,” in addition to practicing basic hygiene and avoiding crowded places.

For people on life-saving therapies like those taking drugs for diabetes and heart disease, getting advance meds is important not only to reduce the need to go out in a potential quarantine but to ensure you have everything you need if you do get sick,PeterJacobson, professor emeritus of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, told Business Insider.

“My real concern is for an elderly person on a life-saving med who waits and then gets sick and now, particularly if it’s more than a mild case, may not be able to go out,” Jacobson said. “And yes, there are ways of getting access to medication, but why put yourself in that position? You can do something upfront to protect yourself, and that’s what people should do.”

But getting an advance supply of important medications isn’t always as simple as walking into your pharmacy and asking for it. Here’s how to get what you need, without contributing to panic-buying and potential shortages.

A chemist wears a protective mask as she waits for customers in a pharmacy in San Fiorano, one of the towns on lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak.Marzio Toniolo / ReutersA chemist wears a protective mask as she waits for customers in a pharmacy in San Fiorano, one of the towns on lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak.

Insurance companies have waived restrictions

In an emergency, insurers can relax their restrictions on things like how much of a certain drug you can get at once to make it easier for people to get the care they need and stock up on prescriptions. According to America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) these emergency plans “may include easing network requirements, prescription drug coverage, referral requirements, and/or cost sharing.”

A few weeks ago, no insurance companies Business Insider reached out to had waived restrictions, with one insurance company calling speculation about the virus’s business impact “premature.”

That has largely changed as more than half of US states in states of emergency and President Trump declaring a national emergency Friday.

On March 6, AHIP said it was “activating emergency plans to ensure that Americans have access to the prevention, testing, and treatment needed to handle the current situation.” Many insurance companies, for example, are waiving limits on 30-day supplies of prescriptions and encouraging people to get 90-day supplies instead.

There are a few ways to try to get a 90-day supply

People concerned about running out of necessary meds should first confirm that their insurance plan or pharmacy benefit manager has changed their policy before heading straight to the pharmacy. This will also help pharmacy-goers avoid extra wait times and burdening the pharmacy staff, The American Pharmacy Association’s chief strategy officer, Mitchel C. Rothholz, told Business Insider.

If you can indeed get, say, a 90-day supply, then call in for the prescription to be filled (or, where possible, do so online). If you or a loved one can’t pick it up, ask the pharmacy about home-delivery options, Rothholz suggested.

Next, be sure to store your extra meds carefully, Jacobson said. Rather than dumping batches in a pillbox, for instance, put the prescriptions in a safe place and then, each month, reload the pillbox like you normally would had you just gotten it from the pharmacy.

“Keep your meds in safe place so they don’t get lost or thrown out,” Jacobson said. “The insurance company and pharmacy are going to have a hard time if you come back in 45 days and say, ‘I don’t know where they are.'”

There are alternatives if you run into barriers

If you don’t have insurance or your insurance carrier does restrict refills, ask your prescriber and pharmacist about options that might be available to help with the costs, since assistance may be available from federal, state, local governments, and the private sector, Rothholz said.

Melissa Chang, a nonprofit worker in Brooklyn whose name has been changed because her family doesn’t know about her mental health issues, spoke to Business Insider earlier about her fears about accessing enough antidepressants ahead of a quarantine.

Since then, she said, she’s talked to her doctor, who was able to give her three months’ worth of samples rather than making her pay the $US3,000 it would cost to triple up.

Or, you can try a prescription savings program like SingleCare to fill your medications at discounted prices, Ramzi Yacoub, SingleCare’s chief pharmacy officer, told Insider.

Not everyone should be stocking up

Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that an unnamed manufacturer reported a shortage of a drug due to a coronavirus-related supply-chain issue. But other than that, experts aren’t aware of other shortages, including those necessary to manage chronic illnesses, and note that most drugs have alternatives should shortages occur.

“There’s no need to at this point to panic or try to hoard medications,” Rothhol said.

This is especially true for people who aren’t at higher risk for serious illness from coronavirus, as well as those who have easy access to a pharmacy or home delivery options. Rothhol does not anticipate pharmacies closing due to the virus, and having too much on hand comes with its own set of complications like having kids get into it.

Everyone can, however, be prepared by making sure they have basic medical supplies like over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers in case anyone in their household does get sick.

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