Some health insurers and prescription delivery services have temporarily changed their policies on refilling prescriptions.

By Renee Cherry
March 16, 2020
Shana Novak/Getty Images

Between toilet paper, non-perishable foods, and hand sanitizer, there's a lot of stockpiling going on right now. Some people are also opting to replenish their prescriptions sooner than usual so they'll be set in case they need to stay home (or if there are shortages of those, too).

Refilling a prescription isn't quite as straightforward as purchasing TP, though. If you're wondering how to refill your prescriptions early and how to get prescription delivery, here's the deal. (Related: The Most Common Coronavirus Symptoms to Look Out for, According to Experts)

Which medicines should I stock up on?

As of now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends keeping several weeks' worth of your prescriptions on hand in case you end up having to stay home. It's especially important that groups at higher risk for severe complications from the coronavirus (older adults and people with severe chronic health conditions) stock up ASAP.

"I recommend that everyone stock up with at least a month's supply, if you can," says Ramzi Yacoub, Pharm.D., chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare. Of yet, there aren't any shortages that have prevented people from refilling their medications, but that could change. "Many medications or ingredients are from China or other countries that may have manufacturing issues or delays due to coronavirus quarantines," says Yacoub. "Generally, there are manufacturing alternatives drugmakers could use to work around any supply issues, but it's too early to tell." (Related: Can Hand Sanitizer Actually Kill the Coronavirus?)

How can I refill prescriptions in advance?

If you've ever needed to stock up on your prescriptions meds (for, say, an extended vacation or traveling for school), you know it isn't as simple as asking for more at the drugstore counter. For most prescriptions, you can only get a 30- or 90-day supply at one time, and you often need to wait until you're at least three-quarters of the way through that 30- or 90-day period to pick up your next round.

Luckily, in light of COVID-19's spread, some insurers are temporarily adjusting their policies. For example, Aetna, Humana, and Blue Cross Blue Shield have temporarily waived early refill limits on 30-day prescriptions. (BCBS' waiver applies to members who have Prime Therapeutics as their Pharmacy Benefit Manager.)

If that's not the case with your insurer, you have the option to pay cash for a prescription and not run it through your insurance. Yes, that route will be more expensive.

If your insurance isn't budging and you can't swing the full cost, you're still not necessarily SOL: "If you're facing any barriers, I recommend speaking with your pharmacist to help you navigate through this process," says Yacoub. "You may also have to call your doctor or health insurance provider to get approval on lifting refill restrictions, but your pharmacist should be able to help you through that process."

Can someone else pick up my prescription for me?

If you're currently self-quarantining—or running errands for someone who is—you might be wondering whether it's possible to pick up another person's prescription. The answer is yes, but the logistics will vary by case.

Usually, the person picking up the prescription will need to provide the person's full name, date of birth, address, and the names of the medications they're picking up. Sometimes, they'll need to show their driver's license.

"In the case of a controlled substance [ex: Tylenol with codeine], I would recommend calling your pharmacy ahead to confirm what information is needed to have someone else pick up your medication," Yacoub says. (Here's the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's list of controlled substances.)

What are my prescription delivery options?

You might want to look into your pharmacy's delivery options before venturing out to pick up your prescriptions in person. Walmart always offers free standard shipping, 2nd-day delivery for $8, and overnight delivery for $15 on mail-order prescriptions. Some Rite Aid stores also offer prescription delivery. (Related: Here's Everything You Need to Know About Coronavirus and Immune Deficiencies)

Some pharmacies have adjusted their prescription delivery options to help out people who are staying home because of the coronavirus. Now through May 1, CVS prescription delivery is free, and you can get 1- to 2-day delivery once your prescription is ready for pickup. Walgreens is also doing free prescription delivery on all eligible medicines, and free standard shipping on walgreens.com orders with no minimum, until further notice.

Depending on your insurance, some online prescription delivery services might be covered, too. Express Scripts and Amazon's PillPack offer free standard shipping. NowRx and Capsule offer free same-day delivery in parts of Orange County/San Francisco and NYC, respectively.

Filling a prescription can be somewhat complicated, even under normal circumstances. If you still have questions, your pharmacist or doctor should be able to help you out.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.

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