An emergency prescription refill may be required to manage life-threatening or chronic conditions during unexpected events. Whether this occurs during a natural disaster severe event without your mediation available, obtaining an emergency prescription varies by state. In any case, you should start by calling your healthcare provider and pharmacy to see what is available to you.
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How to Get an Emergency Prescription Refill
A situation where you need an emergency prescription refill is not always predictable. An emergency refill may be required when a life-threatening medical event occurs, such as a natural disaster, unexpected travel, or when a medication has been stolen or misplaced. Pharmacies will act following their state policy on emergency prescription refills, and each state has its emergency prescription refill policy.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states modified their prescription drug policies to ensure those with chronic medical conditions did not have to go without medications. Some states changed their COVID-19 policies by:
- Relaxing restrictions on quantity limits
- Allowing early refills
- Suspending prior authorization
- Increasing mail delivery
Step 1: Call Your Healthcare Provider
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to plan for accidents and emergencies or even stolen medication. If you require an early refill due to lack of access to your current prescription, you should call your health care provider as soon as possible. Your physician will be familiar with your medical needs to make a sound judgment of whether your needs are imperative.
Step 2: Call Your Pharmacy
There may be times that you are experiencing a medical event requiring an emergency prescription during a time when your healthcare provider is closed. Typically, pharmacists can use their clinical judgment to refill a prescription following state laws. Understand that the pharmacist will only dispense an emergency supply if they determine that going without the medication may harm your health. Pharmacies will act under state laws, so if your pharmacy’s policy is not defined online, you can assume they will work by their state laws.
Read on to learn more about state laws for emergency prescription refills.
Step 3: Prepare for Next Time
To help plan, ask your health care provider for a prescription lasting more than 30 days to ensure you always have enough. In a case where you know you’re going to need a refill while traveling, you may be able to order an additional supply in advance. Some health insurance plans allow for prescription overrides so that you can get a prescription filled early or obtain more than a 30-day supply.
Keep an up-to-date list of all your prescription medications. According to Healthcare Ready, only 40 percent of survey participants said they could list all their prescriptions in detail without their medications in an evacuation or other emergent event. The Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP) helps people who live in a federally-declared disaster area without health insurance. Those eligible can receive a free 30-day supply of their medications for as long as EPAP is active.
Step 4: Understand Your Savings
Many insurance plans offer a prescription override to your pharmacy to cover medications you refill sooner than anticipated. An override may be permitted during a natural disaster, a stolen prescription, active military duty, travel, or vacation. It is not guaranteed that your insurance provider will cover the cost of your medication, and if they don’t, you will want to know what savings options are available instead of paying so that out-of-pocket.
Mira offers up to 80 percent discounted rates on thousands of brand-name and generic prescription drugs. Mira can be used as a supplemental health plan in addition to your insurance or as a stand-alone option. Whether you have insurance or are looking for potential savings in the event of paying out-of-pocket for a prescription, check out Mira’s savings calculator to determine your most discounted rates at pharmacies nearest you.
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Emergency Prescription Refill State Policies
Consider the following examples of state policies:
In Maryland, a pharmacist can refill a prescription if the refill hasn’t been authorized if:
- The refill of the prescription is not for a controlled dangerous substance;
- The drug or device is essential to the maintenance of life;
- The drug or device is essential to the continuation of therapy in chronic conditions; and
- In the pharmacist's professional judgment, the interruption of the therapy reasonably might produce an undesirable health consequence, be detrimental to the patient's welfare, or cause physical or mental discomfort;
But, the pharmacist must follow these instructions to have such authority:
- The pharmacist attempts to obtain authorization from the authorized prescriber; and
- The pharmacist is not able readily to obtain the approval;
- Enters on the back of the prescription or another appropriate uniformly maintained, readily retrievable record, such as a medication record, the date and the quantity of the drug or device dispensed; and Signs or initials the record; and
- The pharmacist notifies the authorized prescriber of the refill of the prescription within 72 hours of dispensing the drug or device.
The state of California allows authorization of pharmacists to authorize emergency prescription refills if:
- The pharmacist makes every reasonable effort to contact the prescriber.
- The prescriber is unavailable to authorize the refill, and if the pharmacist's professional judgment, failure to refill the prescription might interrupt the patient's ongoing care and have a significant adverse effect on the patient's well-being.
- The pharmacist informs the patient that the prescription was refilled pursuant to this section.
- The pharmacist informs the prescriber within a reasonable period of time of any refills dispensed pursuant to this section.
- During a proclaimed state of emergency, nothing shall prohibit a pharmacist or a mobile pharmacy or clinic from refilling a prescription if the prescriber is unavailable, or if after a reasonable effort has been made, the pharmacist, clinic, or mobile pharmacy is unable to contact the prescriber.
In the state of Florida, in the event a pharmacist receives a request for a prescription refill, and the pharmacist is unable to obtain refill authorization from the prescriber readily, the pharmacist may dispense:
- A one-time emergency refill of up to a 72-hour supply of the prescribed medication; or
- A one-time emergency refill of one vial of insulin to treat diabetes mellitus.
- If the Governor issues an emergency order or proclamation of a state of emergency, the pharmacist may dispense up to a 30-day supply in the areas or counties affected by the order or proclamation, provided that:
- The prescription is not for a medicinal drug listed in Schedule II
- The medication is essential to the maintenance of life or the continuation of therapy in a chronic condition.
- In the pharmacist’s professional judgment, the interruption of therapy might reasonably produce undesirable health consequences or may cause physical or mental discomfort.
- The dispensing pharmacist creates a written order containing all of the prescription information and signs that order.
- The dispensing pharmacist notifies the prescriber of the emergency dispensing within a reasonable time after such dispensing.
Emergency Prescription Refill Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Consider the following questions when understanding how to go about getting an emergency prescription refill.
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Do certain medications qualify as emergency prescriptions?
While COVID-19 has expanded many states’ policies on what medications can be prescribed for emergency use, some states require the judgment that going without the prescription would have harmful consequences on your health.
The drugs typically authorized for an emergency refill are intended for daily use, where disrupting a day’s medication would have severe implications. Only a few states allow an emergency prescription refill of controlled substances. Controlled substances are classified into schedules:
- Schedule I: Drugs with a high abuse risk and no accepted medical use such as Heroin, marijuana, LSD, PCP, and crack cocaine.
- Schedule II: Drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially leading to psychological or physical dependence such as narcotics, stimulants, and depressants such as morphine, cocaine, oxycodone, methylphenidate (Ritalin), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
- Schedule III: Drugs with less abuse risk than Schedule II. They have safe and accepted medical uses in the United States.
- Schedule IV: Drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. Some examples of Schedule IV drugs such as Xanax, Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Valium, Ativan, Talwin, Ambien, Tramadol
- Schedule V: Drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of limited quantities of certain narcotics. Schedule V drugs are usually used for antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic purposes.
Can virtual doctors prescribe medication?
Yes, virtual doctors can prescribe medication. As the United States is still in a state of emergency, virtual doctors can often prescribe uncontrolled and controlled medications virtually, which may be subject to change when there is no longer a declaration of emergency.
What is a prior authorization?
Prior authorization is a decision made by your health insurer that a health care service, treatment plan, prescription drug, or durable medical equipment is medically necessary. Prior authorization is also called prior approval or precertification.
Emergency prescription refills are permitted, but regulations vary by state. Given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, many states have relaxed and modified their policies temporarily. In the event of a natural disaster, travel, or stolen medication that may significantly affect your health to go without, you should first start by calling your doctor. If you are calling after hours, your next step should be to go to your pharmacist and plan future emergencies.
Ashley Brooks works in Healthcare Consulting and graduates with her MPH in September of 2022 from George Washington University, but graduated with her B.S. in Health Science from James Madison University in 2019. Ashley has been with Mira since June of 2021 and shares the passion for creating affordable healthcare coverage for all!