orange pills spilled on a table

How To Get An Emergency Prescription Refill

If you rely on prescription medication to maintain your health, it’s important to take steps to avoid missing a dose. What is an emergency prescription refill, and how can you get one? Are there any techniques to avoid needing an emergency prescription refill? Read on for the information you need!

What is an emergency prescription refill?

An emergency prescription refill supplies you with prescription medication in the event you lose access to your medicine and are otherwise unable to take it as scheduled. The ability to obtain an emergency refill can vary depending on the medication, health insurer, and circumstances involved.

Many medications may be filled on an emergency basis by a pharmacist. Other medications, particularly those with addictive properties such as opiates, may require a doctor to issue the prescription. Health insurers may not cover emergency prescription refills or may restrict the circumstances in which they will cover prescription refills.

Why would someone need an emergency prescription refill?

Many people may put off planning ahead for times when they need a prescription refill, but it can happen in a number of ways, including:

  • Getting lost or forgotten during travel
  • Being stolen with a bag from your car or from your home
  • Forgotten or lost during a crisis, like a natural disaster
  • Mail-order delivery is delayed, damaged, or fails to arrive
  • Medication getting destroyed after being exposed to water (eg. dropped in the toilet or a puddle, etc.)

What you need to know

It’s important to discuss your prescriptions with your doctor, so you know what your needs are in an emergency. Missing even one dose can be dire for people with diabetes, heart conditions, or undergoing treatments like chemotherapy. Missing other medications, such as those used to address high cholesterol, may have little to no effect if you miss a dose or two.

You should also familiarize yourself with your health insurer’s policies regarding emergency prescription refills. Understanding how to prioritize your prescriptions will empower you to make decisions quickly when an emergency happens.

What are tips to avoid needing an emergency prescription refill?

If you are looking for ways to plan ahead in the event of a medication shortage, there are a few strategies you can consider.

1. Prepare a “Go-Kit” or an “Emergency Preparedness Kit”

Experts suggest creating a “Go-Kit” of necessary items you can easily grab in case of an emergency. Your kit should include:

  • A change of clothing for each household member
  • Flashlight, small radio, and necessary batteries
  • Copies of all health insurance and prescription cards, and a list of medications for each household member
  • A two-week supply of non-prescription and prescription medication for each household member (don’t forget pets!)
  • A bottle of water for each household member

Go-kits are especially suggested for those who live in areas prone to natural disasters that may require you to evacuate on short notice. You should avoid storing the kit in a place that is regularly exposed to extreme temperatures, like the trunk of a car.

2. Get early refills and save extra pills

Depending on the limitations in place by your insurer and the medication involved, you may be able to stockpile medications a little at a time. You may be able to refill medications early and save the extra pills for your Go-Kit.

There can be a number of challenges to this strategy, however.

  • First, the earliest a non-controlled medication can be refilled by a pharmacist is 7 days for a 30-day supply (and 21 days for a 90-day supply).
  • Insurance companies and pharmacies may restrict refills further with their own policies, sometimes only allowing refills 2 days early regardless of the length of the prescription.
  • Schedule III and Schedule IV medications, which are more heavily regulated, cannot be legally refilled sooner than 2 days before a 30-day supply is used up.
  • Some insurance companies go even further, calculating cumulative early refills and requiring those be used up before a refill is approved.
  • You should remember that prescription medication does expire, and that if your prescription changes, any pills you have saved may no longer be useful.

3. Pay for additional prescriptions

For those whose health strongly depends on access to their prescriptions, your doctor may be willing to write a prescription for use during an emergency. However, this may mean paying full price for the prescription. Some insurance companies will grant “emergency exceptions” to cover an extra refill. However, not all health insurers will agree to cover the cost of prescriptions filled in these circumstances.

How can I get an emergency prescription refill?

If you need an emergency prescription refill, you have a few options:

  • Talk to a pharmacist: Pharmacists are authorized to offer 3-day emergency supplies of certain prescriptions that are deemed medically necessary. This can give you more time to get a prescription if you need a refill for a longer duration. You should note that Schedule II drugs like opiates are unlikely to be approved with this method.
  • Visit an urgent care clinic: Urgent care clinics can write you a short-term emergency prescription in the event your health care provider is unavailable. However, there are a few factors to keep in mind. First, the appointment availability at a clinic may be limited, especially during a Covid-19 surge. In addition to the inconvenience of waiting time spent at a clinic, it also presents a risk of exposure to Covid-19 or other contagious illnesses. If you are at high risk of severe illness or are regularly around a loved one who is at high risk of developing complications from Covid-19, the possibility of getting sick can put you in a no-win situation regarding your health.
  • House call doctors: House call doctors offer a number of advantages over urgent care clinics. First, many mobile healthcare practices offer telehealth services, which may allow you to obtain a prescription without requiring an in-person appointment. Secondly, even if an in-person appointment is necessary for you to obtain an emergency refill, house call doctors generally have much better availability than a traditional primary care physician (PCP) or urgent care clinic, meaning it’s much easier to get a same-day appointment.
  • Mobile healthcare providers: Mobile healthcare providers (also known as house call doctors or Direct Primary Care Physicians (DPCs) can meet you in your office or hotel room, so that you can get the care you need even if you are traveling. If you need a negative Covid-19 test for return travel, you may be able to get tested during the same appointment, taking care of all your health needs at once. Modern house call doctors offer professional health care with added convenience and safety, so you can get the emergency prescription refill you need when and where you need it.

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