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Automatic Prescription Refills: Helpful or Wasteful?

Prescription drug programs that automatically ship out refills at regular intervals can help older Americans follow doctor's orders, according to business organizations that are lobbying against a Medicare crackdown on the practice.


Medicare, though, says that the automatic refill programs lead to waste when beneficiaries get prescriptions they don't need and can't return them.

In February, the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS) proposed new regulations that say, in part: "Shipment of unwanted medications is not only wasteful, but also a source of significant beneficiary aggravation and a financial imposition that can negatively affect enrollee satisfaction with the plan."

See also: Choosing a Part D Drug Plan That Is Right for You

In a letter to CMS, the employer organizations argue that "appropriately structured automatic refill programs can be developed that balance the need for therapeutic adherence and convenience, and do not result in unnecessary waste."

The new rule, if approved, will go into effect in January 2014 and applies to the Medicare Part D program for prescription drugs. Beneficiaries could still get mail-order drugs but the company would have to contact them before sending a refill. Customers who have their prescriptions filled at a pharmacy would not be affected.

CMS is already advising beneficiaries about the likely change in rules. "Prescription drug plans should get your approval to deliver a prescription, new or refill, before each delivery, except when you yourself ask for the refill or request a new prescription," the agency says. "Be sure to tell your drug plan the best way to reach you so you don't miss the refill confirmation call or other communication."


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