The $5 Gadget That Can Save You Thousands of Dollars

By Paul Michael on 27 January 2010 (Updated 2 February 2011) 17 comments
Photo: Amazon

Economically, times are still tough. And with healthcare being at the top of a long list of concerns about money, anyone taking medication should invest in a small gadget that can literally save you a small fortune every year. The gadget in question…a simple pill splitter.

Recently I changed jobs and with the change came a rise in my healthcare costs, particularly for medication that I have to take. But never one to just accept the change and pay the extra price, I looked at my options.

I wondered…could I just split a higher dose of the medication in half and get 60 days out of a 30-day supply? After all, when I was weaning myself off a medication a few years ago, my doctor instructed me to cut my pills in half. But instead of going down to a lower dosage, I could request a bigger dosage and simply chop it in half. Double the pills, half the price.

The overall cost would be the same as before my insurance costs went up (actually, a tiny bit cheaper) and I’d only have to pick up my meds once every two months.

It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

Well, it turns out it really was that easy for me. I take a medication that can be safely cut in half and therefore it was the perfect option for me (more on that in a second). A medication with a $50 monthly co-pay becomes a $25 co-pay. That adds up to a healthy $300 per year savings. If I’m on this for the rest of my life (I sure hope not) it would save me thousands and thousands of dollars.

But even if it’s just for another 3-4 years, that’s still a savings of at least $1200 on what is basically the same medication. All it takes is a $4.99 pill splitter from your local drug store, or Amazon if you prefer.

If you take more than one medication per year, you can see how the savings start to add up quickly, especially if you have no insurance whatsoever. Some of these drugs cost hundreds of dollars per month, and if you can chop that in half, you’re getting amazing savings.

So, are there any pills you can’t split?

YES. This is a major aspect of pill splitting that you need to be aware of. Some drugs can be split safely with no problems at all (often, the pill will have a small groove down the center to facilitate the splitting process). Others CANNOT be split, as this could cause serious side effects. There are four main types of pills that can’t be spilt safely, as noted by About.com:Health Insurance

Capsules

Capsules may contain a liquid, powder, or tiny pellets. If the capsule is split, the medication inside may spill and be impossible to divide evenly.

Extended-release medications

Extended-release, or long-acting medications, have coatings or ingredients that control how fast the drug is released from the pill. Splitting these tablets can destroy substances in the coating. This may result in too much of the drug being released at one time, which may cause dangerous side effects, or too little being released, which may cause your health condition to be poorly controlled.

teric-coated medications

Enteric-coated pills have a special coating to prevent the release of medication into your stomach. This is designed either to protect your stomach from the drug or to prevent the drug from being destroyed by the acids in your stomach.

Medications that require an exact dose

Some medications require that you get exactly the same dose each time you take it. Even very small deviations can cause problems. Cutting these pills could result in a dose that is too low to be helpful or a dose that is dangerously high. A good example of this is Coumadin (warfarin), a powerful blood thinner, which can cause excessive bleeding if you take too much, or allow blood clots to form if you take too little. Coumadin (warfarin) requires very accurate dosing and even a very slight difference in the cut halves can put you at risk for dangerous bleeding or clotting.

So as you can see, if you don't check with your doctor first about pill-splitting, you could put your health in danger. Please, make an appointment to discuss your options, your GP will almost always be happy to help you save money and stay healthy.

Even the insurance companies are getting in on this, with some now offering co-pay discounts for splitting your meds. That's a saving on top of a saving.

Bottom line, this is a safe and simple way to save yourself big bucks. If you're on a medication right now that can be doubled and split, you'll instantly cut the price of that medication in half. And all it takes a $5 gadget.

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Guest's picture

"Even the insurance companies are getting in on this, with some now offering co-pay discounts for splitting your meds. That's a saving on top of a saving."

Actually the insurance companies started this trend by changing their drug formularies. For them it's a cost-cutting measure which they pass on to their customers by (in many instances) mandating pill-splitting. In many cases this practice actually reduces patient adherence to medication especially for those on multiple medications.

Having worked in pharmacies I can say that most people dislike this practice, but as you suggest tough economic times are forcing people to rethink their opinion on the matter.

Guest's picture
Bobbi

I do this as much as possible. I buy a 3 month supply and get 6 months worth. :)

Guest's picture
Guest

I can't imagine imperfect splitting of a coumadin would make much of a difference. Labwork is done frequently and this med can be very hard to regulate for a lot of people, by much more of a margin than slightly different doses, for example 4.8 mg one day and 5.2 mg another day.

Guest's picture
Derek Chin

I am a member of Kaiser Permanente and when I went to get a prescription filled at their pharmacy I inquired how much one of them "pill chopping thingys" cost. They just gave me one. Granted, with what I pay for my monthly premiums, it's likely my pill splitter cost's a WHOLE lot more than what Paul paid. Good luck to any of you who are going to try and score a free one from Kaiser!

Guest's picture
Guest

Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble with medication costs, they may be able to give a splitable pill, change your schedual to ever other day (I did this with one med, took a higher dose every other day, per DOCTOR'S advice), switch you to a cheaper med, or give you samples to stretch out what you have to buy. I have always found my doctors very helpful with this. If you are on a lot of meds you probably see the doctor pretty frequently anyway so talk to them -- calling ahead and telling the nurse you would you like to discuss cost issues at the next appointment can be helpful as well. However, don't try to get creative on your own, make sure your doctor knows what you are doing and ok's it.

Guest's picture
ND

I got a free pill splitter from my pharmacy when I transferred my scripts to them. Doesn't hurt to ask!

Guest's picture
Guest

Or they're a $1 at the Dollar store.

Guest's picture

Experts recommend you split a pill and take each half sequentially instead of splitting 30 for the month and taking them without regard to which half you take when. This averages out the dose since as often as not the halves are not exact. Many drugs cost the same price no matter what the dose so splitting does make sense when they are intended to help you to regulate a chronic condition.
This is a very good post on this important subject. Thanks for writing it.

Sierra Black's picture

I just recently started taking prescription meds, and have been looking for ways to cut that cost. My doctor suggested splitting my pills because she wants me to take 1.5 of them at each dose. I will definitely ask her about doubling the scrip so I can make on prescription last two months!

Sierra Black - embracing the wild heart of parenting at www.childwild.com

Guest's picture
Amy K.

My mother and husband also take half pills per doctors orders. Their prescription explicitly says a half pill each day, so their 90 day supply from the pharmacy is only 45 pills.

Double-check with your doctor, let her know that you would like to split a larger dose and make sure the prescription is written appropriately.

Guest's picture
Laure

You can also extend the life of a bottle of vitamins by doing this - if the larger vitamins happened to be on sale.

Guest's picture
itstarted

Thanks...
Now, how about a follow up on a similar subject. Dated Medications.
A little dangerous legally, I suppose, but prompted by the US military study that found that most out of date tablet medications could be used without danger, though in some longer term cases, with minor loss of potency.

Another interesting subject would be the idea of sharing medications that are no longer needed, with others who still take them, in order to save money. I my on case, I had about $300 worth of a common drug left, when my doctor switched the medication. Instead of throwing the drug away, as the pharmaceutical companies suggest, I was able to help out a neighbor.

As a senior citizen, my guess would be that many of my peers have hundreds of dollars of medications that are no longer prescribed, and could be helping others.

I have no idea how to do this sharing in a sensible manner, but hate the idea of wasting perfectly good commodities. Amazing to me how many people who work tirelessly for charities, can just throw away valuable medications instead of helping those who can't afford them.

Guest's picture
Guest

I also got one free my local pharmacy. It works great and although I dont take medication regularly, it could be a real savings if I did.

I currently have 470k worth of debt - Follow my journey to financial freedom

Guest's picture
Croatian1

Unfortunately it is illegal to share medications. If the person for some reason got in trouble and said, Oh I got them from so and so you would be charged. It is a shame with meds as expensive as they are.
My brother works for a company that supplies the meds to nursing homes, jails, prisons etc. They do not sell to the public. If a patient in one of these facilities dies say a day after they just got a month supply of meds, these meds have to be sent back to the company my brother works for and then they have to destroy them. It is sick the amount that gets thrown away. My brother said, too bad if we here in the US cannot keep them that they could not at least be sent to other countries who are so desperately in need of these drugs. Or as in what is happening now in Haiti. But, no they are destroyed.....

Guest's picture
Lucas

sorry I'm French

Guest's picture
Lucas

but i guess with Obama it starts to be little better
oping for more

Kentin Waits's picture

Great tip -- thanks for calling attention this often-ignored tactic. Another type of pill that can't be split (may be similar to your exact dosage category): single pills that are actually contain multiple medications. It's hard to split these and still be assured of the correct dosages.