High Costs Lead Millions of Americans to Shop Abroad for Rx Drugs

HealthDay News reported this past week that more than 2 million Americans buy prescription drugs from other countries as a way around rising prices in the United States, a new study finds.

The analysis of nationwide survey data showed that 1.5% of adults got their prescription meds from outside the United States between 2015 and 2017.

Immigrants and people who were older or who had inadequate health insurance coverage and tight budgets were more likely to do so. Those who use the internet for health care information were, as well, the findings showed.

Originally published in JAMA Network Open on June 24: The number of Americans looking for cheaper prescription drugs is likely to rise due to the spike in unemployment stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and the loss of work-based health insurance, according to the University of Florida (UF) researchers.

“With the economic and health consequences of COVID-19 disproportionately impacting minority and low-income populations, more people in those groups may be seeking an alternative way to meet their medication needs,” said lead study author Young-Rock Hong, an assistant professor of health services research, management and policy at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions.

Safety is a big concern with international medication purchases, the researchers said in a university news release. One in 10 medications sold in the world are substandard or fake, the World Health Organization estimates.

I personally like to keep my business here in the Valley whenever possible, and my recommendations to clients is consistent with that. However, there needs to be exceptions. Last week I did an analysis on a new client’s medications. The best prescription drug plan for her provided a $0 co pay for most of her medications.

There were two exceptions. The one BRAND name medication would be expensive the first month, needing to meet the plan’s $250 deductible. After that, the $249.00 drug will cost $45 for the remainder of the year. The issue was, there was another generic drug that was not covered on the plan, and it was $70.00.

So, I went to good old reliable www.goodrx.com, but in the clients zip code and the name of the generic medication. With a coupon I printed off the website, the prescription was only $14.50 at several chain store pharmacies in Bakersfield, and she can fill it for three months at a time!
There is only one problem with using GoodRx.com.

You can not fill your insurance covered medications and use the Good Rx coupon price at the same pharmacy. The computer system can only deal with one set of codes. The coupon can be used at any participating pharmacy and is reusable. FREE GoodRx ID cards are available in our office if you don’t care to clip coupons.

The ID cards are a great way of saving money, especially for people with no insurance, or have a high deductible before insurance would start.

Before Medicare Part D, the prescription benefit, I owned a Canadian discount pharmacy website. Never had a problem with imported medications. Lately I am hearing more problems with Internet websites, as the cheapest medications are coming direct from other Asian and European countries.

Canada has regulations similar to the FDA here in the United States. When you are importing from other countries, there is a greater risk of bogus drugs. I saw a perfectly printed Lipitor package a few years back, which had no medicinal value.

The yellow coating on the pill was identical to the brand, but it turned out to be the paint used to color the highway lines in China. This bogus Lipitor came into the Unites States from Mexico.

Purchasing your medication from trusted sources is the best medicine.

Harry P. Thal, MA, is a licensed insurance broker in California (0621106) and 24 other states. His offices are in Kernville. He is a member of the Society of Certified Senior Advisors and Past-President of the Kern Association of Health Underwriters. He may be reached at 760-376-2100, e-mail harrythal@aol.com or visit him on the web at www.harrythal.com.