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AARP Answers: Coronavirus and Prescription Drugs

What to know about getting your medications during the outbreak

Prescription pill bottles in a box

Jamie Grill/Getty Images

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Should I stock up on my prescription medicines during the coronavirus outbreak?

Yes, if you can. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines suggest keeping a “two-week supply of prescription and over-the-counter medication.”

Adm. Brett P. Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), discouraged excessive stockpiling of medications but recommended having a healthy supply. “Make sure you have, if you can, a good month or more of medications — a couple of months — to keep you out of the doctor's office,” he said during an AARP Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Hall.

Officials have noted that it's also important to stock up on, but not hoard, over-the-counter medications to treat fever, cough and other symptoms, as well as tissues and common medical supplies.

What should I do if my pharmacy says I can't get more than my usual supply or refill my prescription early?

If you want a reserve of prescription medication, start by talking with your health care provider. It's possible that they could bump up your prescription from, say, a 30-day to a 90-day supply — one of the many provisions of the CARES Act, which was supported by AARP. One roadblock may be your health insurance, since many plans won't cover more than a month's worth of meds. Because these are extraordinary times, however, some major health insurers have pledged to relax prescription-refill limits on “maintenance medications.” Such limits are also being waived for many Medicare Advantage and Part D beneficiaries.

If you want to refill your medication before the set date, call your health plan and explain your situation. The insurer may be able to type in a code to alert the pharmacist that an early refill has been approved. (Note, however, that early refills often are not available for controlled substances.)

If your insurer denies your first refill request, don't be afraid to push back and advocate for yourself, given the CDC and HHS recommendations.

How do I get my medications if I am trying to avoid public interactions?

Some drugstores and pharmacies deliver. And big chains across the U.S. (see the list below) are waiving delivery fees for eligible prescription drugs, to discourage older customers and those with underlying health conditions from having to visit stores during the coronavirus outbreak.

Ask your pharmacist if your medications can be delivered; controlled substances and refrigerated medications might not be eligible for the service. (If you are aware of other retailers offering free delivery, please alert us in the comments section below.)

Albertsons/Safeway: Albertsons chains with pharmacies, including Safeway, will waive delivery fees for same-day and next-day prescription deliveries, as well as for mail deliveries, until May 1. Most rush deliveries (one- and two-hour) are excluded.

CVS Pharmacy: The chain is offering one- to two-day delivery of prescription medication for high-risk customers until May 1.

Kinney Drugs: Stores are offering free delivery of prescriptions and products such as over-the-counter medications, household supplies and pantry items. They also have drive-through pickup for prescriptions.

Rite Aid: Home delivery is available upon request, and the company will waive delivery fees. Customers should contact their local store pharmacist for details, call 800-Rite Aid or reach out through a live chat on RiteAid.com with questions. Controlled substances or refrigerated medications are not eligible for this service.

Walgreens: The chain is waiving delivery fees for all eligible prescriptions. Customers should speak with a pharmacist to confirm prescription eligibility. Essential household items, such as cleaning and medical supplies, are available for purchase at the pharmacy drive-through. Stores also offer seniors-only shopping from 8 to 9 a.m. every Tuesday, and some offer drive-through pickup.

There are other ways to avoid a trip to the store. Consider asking a friend or family member to pick up prescriptions for you, or see if you can fill your prescriptions through a mail-order service (the latter option will ensure that your prescriptions are refilled on time). Call your doctor or pharmacy to ask if you can change your prescriptions to mail order.

Will coronavirus have an impact on the price of my prescription drugs?

There is no such expectation now. But the rising cost of prescription drugs is a main driver behind health care's affordability problem, especially for older Americans. Indeed, an AARP report found that prices on widely used prescription drugs rose faster than general inflation every year from 2006 to 2017. Fighting those escalating costs is a high priority for AARP and the motivation behind its STOP RxGreed campaign.

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