CVS Caremark limits the purchase of essential medication to avoid stockpiling

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CVS Caremark set new guidelines to ensure essential medications aren’t being stockpiled by patients with coronavirus. The guidelines are meant to protect those with chronic care conditions from medication shortages.

The treatments hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, protease inhibitor and albuterol inhalers are thought to help ease the symptoms of COVID-19-induced pneumonia. But they’re proven to treat chronic conditions like lupus, bacterial infections, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. To ensure chronic care patients have access to their medications during the epidemic, CVS Caremark — the PBM division of CVS Health — is limiting how many of these drugs can be purchased for coronavirus patients.

“Pharmacy benefit managers play an important role at the center of the pharmaceutical supply chain,” says Alan Lotvin, M.D., president of CVS Caremark. “We are taking additional steps today to limit stockpiling that could result in future shortages and gaps in care. We will continue to anticipate and support the needs of our clients, who collectively provide prescription drug coverage for more than 90 million members.”

CVS Caremark appears to be the first PBM to enact policies to prevent medication stockpiling, which were put into place last week. Economists are worried that drug shortages in India and China — the world’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturers — will cause a shortage in the U.S. A shortage can prove devastating to people with chronic conditions if the public stockpiles medications like other essential items, including toilet paper, hand sanitizer and face masks.

A CVS spokesman said quantity limits for COVID-19 patients are different for each medication, but most people will receive a 10 to 14-day supply on average. People using these medications to treat chronic conditions won’t be subjected to the restrictions. CVS Caremark clients can choose whether or not to participate in these prescription rationing policies.

The CVS Caremark team used data analytics to determine which prescriptions are in high-demand due to coronavirus concerns. As scientists continue to test different treatments on the virus, CVS Caremark plans to monitor and update the list of prescriptions they’ll allocate to patients. Lotvin hopes these efforts will help “take proactive steps to help ensure the integrity of the supply chain.”

“We continue to proactively study the latest clinical literature and consider what additional measures may be needed to help facilitate access to any other newly identified treatments as they emerge during this extraordinary public health situation,” says Sree Chaguturu, M.D., chief medical officer for CVS Caremark.

The PBM also took steps to make it easier for members to refill other essential prescriptions without leaving their homes. On March 10, CVS waived its early refill limits policy so patients don’t have to make an appointment with their doctor and wait until their prescriptions are nearly empty to get a refill.

Around 239,000 members have refilled their 30-day supplies early since the policy was revoked. A CVS Caremark spokesman said the company has also taken steps to remind members they can have a 90-day supply of their prescriptions mailed directly to their homes. Anthem and Cigna also encouraged their members to take advantage of their extended prescription policies; UnitedHealth’s PBM, OptumRx, allows members to refill prescriptions early as well.

The company currently has no plans to limit distribution of medications that are not being used to treat coronavirus, but other pharmacies have made efforts to limit the purchase of over the counter common cold and flu medications. Since early March, Kroger, one of the nation’s largest supermarkets, placed a five-item limit on cold and flu medicines and sanitation products, for online delivery and pickup orders.

“CVS Caremark also continues to closely monitor the global manufacturing environment,” a statement released by CVS Caremark said. “At this time, CVS Caremark does not see any disruptions to the supply chain, as a result of COVID-19, that will affect our ability to fill prescriptions.”

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