Breaking the Law to Save Big Bucks

I admit it. I returned from vacation with some items I shouldn't have brought back.

Prescription drugs.

But, let me start at the beginning.

On vacation, in another country, I had an opportunity to use the medical system. Sparing you the details, let's just say that I ended up with three prescriptions, which I filled, and which I used.

In that country, filling prescriptions is much easier than it is here.

The doctor gives you the information on what you need, information he may write on a piece of paper, or print from his computer, but it's not a formal prescription like we are used to. Just a note, written, typed, scrawled. Doesn't matter.

It can be refilled, generally, forever. Just take the empty bottle or box into the pharmacy and they give you refills, without any limit. There are, of course, some restrictions. Like Viagra, and narcotics.

After I began using the prescriptions, I got curious. The prices seemed incredibly reasonable. So, to do a price check with something I'm familiar with, I dumped out all the contents of a container of prescription medicine I regularly take and took it to the pharmacy for a refill.

My prescription, when filled here in Massachusetts, costs about $53 a month. On vacation, just over $4.50, less than a twelfth the cost locally.

I also checked the prices of the three prescriptions filled on vacation. The first cost me $5.60 vs. about $91 here. The second, $7.50 there vs. $42 here. And, the third, $24.68 there vs. $66.44 here.

And I brought them all back home to show to my doctor. They were, indeed, the same medicines, by the same manufacturers, as I would buy here.

No wonder our senior citizens are going over the border to have their prescriptions filled. No wonder all the candidates this year are focusing on the high costs of health care and prescriptions. No wonder we're seeing full page newspaper ads urging our seniors to sign up for new prescription coverage. No wonder Congress has just this week passed legislation to allow the re-importation of drugs.

Re-importation. Going over the border, to buy drugs, manufactured in the United States, but sold in Canada or Mexico at prices much, much lower than here.

The question today is.why do prescription drugs cost so much?

Correction. The question is.why do prescription drugs cost so much here in the United States.

Now, this is America, a capitalistic country. And companies deserve to make a profit. They've done a lot of research, not just on successful medicines, but on many that never got to market.

But, how much of a profit? And, how can they justify putting the burden of payment solely on our citizens? (I know, the average person in the country I visited could never afford to pay our rates, and prices have to be adjusted if they are to receive medicine. That's a different issue.)

I also know that every so often I get a report from a pharmaceutical company informing me that they've provided thousands of dollars worth of free medicines to my constituents. But, I also know, that case workers have a hard time getting approval for those that need it and the paperwork burden on doctors is overwhelming.

I'm tired of pharmaceutical companies, and, I'm tired of the politicians, on the national level, who say things like "I've proposed a new plan," or "I will make sure that every senior can afford needed prescriptions" or "all senior citizens will receive discounted prescription drug coverage," or, "it's time to take on the big drug companies" or.you get the picture.

All the ideas, all the promises, no action. Let's just do something.

In Massachusetts, at least, we have. There are two new plans about to go into effect.

Citizens Energy Corporation has a plan to put a large number of consumers into a pool, and use the leverage of collective buying to obtain sizeable discounts to lower the cost of prescription medicines. Bulk purchasing.

And, the Legislature has approved a plan offered by the Heinz Family Philanthropies. The Hope Plan, scheduled to go into effect in April, will create an affordable prescription drug plan for all senior citizens, regardless of income.

It's a start. We have to make prescription drugs more affordable, for all of us.


Cele's column appears Saturdays in the Westfield (MA) Evening News.

All materials copyright 1997 - 2014