Should I Stockpile Medication? Your Coronavirus Questions, Answered.

Coronavirus Questions
Photo illustration by Paula Friedrich/Centers for Disease Control
Coronavirus Questions
Photo illustration by Paula Friedrich/Centers for Disease Control

Should I Stockpile Medication? Your Coronavirus Questions, Answered.

WBEZ is answering your questions about the coronavirus in Illinois. Have a question? Ask us here.

As the coronavirus spreads across the U.S., many residents have begun stockpiling supplies. But should that include prescription medication or over-the-counter medication — and how much will your insurance cover?

Experts said there’s no indication there will be drug shortage in the U.S., and stockpiling could be a pricey way to induce a public panic for no reason.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends having a two week supply of prescriptions on hand.

“I believe the CDC recommendation is right on,” said Desi Kotis, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s director of pharmacy. “The last thing you’d want is for patients to pay additional amounts of money. We know how much medications can cost — the pricing is egregious.”

Most insurance companies will cover a one- to three-month supply of a medication, far more than the CDC recommendation. But stocking up could cost hundreds of dollars and indulge panic, all for no medical benefit.

However, restocking over-the-counter medications for cold symptoms is a good idea, Kotis said. This includes everything from acetaminophen to cough drops and tissues.

“If you want to reduce your risk of exposure by not going out, you can switch to mail order,” said Sabrina Corlette, a Georgetown health insurance researcher. “Some insurance providers actually encourage this.”

For those worried about a worldwide drug shortage, Kotis says everyone can rest easy for now.

About 80% of the raw materials used to make prescription and over-the-counter drugs come from China and India. While there are currently some limits on exports from those countries, Kotis said U.S. and European manufacturers have four to 10 months worth of those materials.

“That supply chain is very secure,” she said.

However, the Wall Street Journal reported that top U.S. drug makers said their supplies could be affected if the epidemic persists.