Dare to Prepare: Only Your Insurer Will Stop You

Have you taken steps to assemble a disaster preparedness kit? Those with medical conditions requiring daily medications — or those with loved ones who need them — may be in for a rude awakening.

Emergency preparedness experts advise individuals and their household members to plan for a minimum of three days without access to outside sources of food, water, sanitation, utilities and transportation. Some experts take it a step further, however: Be prepared to become self reliant for up to a week. That means stocking supplies not only at home, but often at work, school or even one’s automobile. After all, you never know where you will be when disaster strikes.

Disaster preparedness literature advocates stocking necessary medications, but those who are insured and require daily medications to treat asthma, diabetes or other chronic conditions may run into an unexpected and ironic obstacle: Many health insurance companies have no provision in place to allow subscribers to obtain doctor-authorized refills for use in an emergency supply kit. While mail order prescription refill services may permit as many as 90 days worth of medications and conventional pharmacies as much as 30, the issue for many people suffering from chronic health conditions is that, even if the doctor authorizes multiple refills, insurers will not permit subscribers to obtain extras for use in a preparedness kit. This means that anyone taking prescription drugs on a daily basis may be unable to divert medication into a kit because they are ineligible for a refill before the remainder of their supply runs out.

It is difficult to overcome the irony that post 911 and post hurricane Katrina, health insurers are more likely to allow subscribers to obtain medication for a pending vacation than for an impending disaster. And while this might not seem to matter much if you do not suffer from a chronic and potentially life-threatening illness such as asthma or diabetes, it should. Emergency room doctors who are inundated after a disaster should be treating patients with critical wounds, not people with preexisting conditions who are endangered only by inaccessibility to routine medications.

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