Take Half of This And Call Me in the Morning

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As long as you're not afraid of using a little bit of elbow grease when you take your daily medications, UnitedHealthcare may be just the HMO for you. In an astoundingly brazen display of belt-tightening, the giant insurance company announced Wednesday they will require member doctors to write double-strength antidepressant prescriptions — with the understanding that patients will break the tablets in half to reach their required dosage. Someone who's taking 50 milligrams of the antidepressant Zoloft, for example, would take home a prescription for 100-milligram tablets and instructions to take only half a pill a day. The 50-milligram tablets, which cost only seven cents less than the more potent pills, will no longer be covered under the plan.

While United claims it will pass the penny-pinching savings along to customers in the form of lower premiums, some doctors worry the HMO's dedication to the bottom line could be dangerous for patients, who could inadvertently increase their dosages, resulting in sleep loss and nervousness — or worse. And, according to TIME medical editor Christine Gorman, United's plan could be more grist for the mill of anti-HMO rhetoric. "This takes the power to prescribe out of the doctors' hands and puts it in the bureaucrats' court, all in the name of cost-cutting," says Gorman. "This is exactly the sort of thing that gives HMOs a bad reputation in the first place."