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Three HMOs Encourage Pill-Splitting to Cut Costs

Aired March 24, 2000 - 2:17 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Three big HMOs are asking patients to cut costs by buying higher-dosage pills and cutting them in half. While it may save a few pennies, consumer advocates warn the practice could be dangerous.

Here's CNN's Aram Roston in Atlanta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARAM ROSTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To save money, some patients cut high-dose prescription pills in half, getting the same effect as they would with a lower dose pill.

Pharmacist Ira Katz says sometimes he encourages pill-splitting. For example, since 50-milligram Zoloft pills cost almost as much as 100-milligram pills, a patient can make that 100-milligram pill last for two doses at the same price.

IRA KATZ, PHARMACIST: This is a way to save the health care system. And in a lot of situations, I'm comfortable with it, the physicians are comfortable with it, and the patients themselves are comfortable with it.

ROSTON: Several health care plans are encouraging pill-splitting to cut costs. And in some cases, they want doctors and pharmacies to help make it happen.

In Florida, the state has gone a step further. It's no longer just an option for Medicaid patients. With certain drugs, pill- splitting, or a form of it, is now mandatory. Officials with the state's Medicaid program say the move will save about $10 million a year.

But pharmacists are worried about the trend.

SUSAN SINCKLER, AMERICAN PHARMACEUTICAL ASSN.: Requiring patients to split tablets as a mandatory policy is really not a good idea because the decision needs to be made on a patient-by-patient basis.

ROSTON: Elderly patients might not be able to cut the pill exactly in half, or cut it at all.

KATZ: If the patient lives by him- or herself and have trouble cutting it, what you might find is: they're not going to cut it; they're going to take the whole tablet.

ROSTON: In Florida, where it is mandatory, officials say they know there is a risk, but the rising costs force them to make tough choices.

Aram Roston, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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