PharmacyChecker Blog

Helping Americans Get The Truth About Prescription Drug Savings
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A Great Read for Americans Who Want to Know What the Heck is Going in With Drug Prices!

...about the high cost of meds.

…about the high cost of meds.

For those who want a comprehensive but straightforward explanation about why drug prices are incredibly higher in the U.S. than in other countries, I strongly recommend reading in VOX, “The true story of America’s sky-high prescription drug prices.

Many of you know that in other countries, such as Australia and Canada, government agencies negotiate with pharmaceutical companies through myriad policy interventions to keep prescription drugs affordable for their citizens. This article explains how that’s done, why it works – but also identifies the tradeoffs where in some cases a new drug is not available outside the U.S. because regulators decide it doesn’t offer additional value over existing drugs.

It also addresses the issue of how research and development to find new drugs may be negatively affected if the U.S. institutes more control over drug prices. Some people argue that broader access to currently available drugs at lower prices means fewer new breakthrough drugs coming to market.

In speaking with lots of people on different sides of the political spectrum and with contrasting governing philosophies — everyone agrees that us Americans are getting a bad deal on drug prices right now. This VOX piece really speaks to the issues at hand, objectively and truthfully, and if you’re interested in “getting it” you should read it.

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Having to Choose Between Food and Medicine in America – a Reminder on Thanksgiving

We The PeopleIt’s a national disgrace that this Thanksgiving Americans will go without medication because prices are too high. First Coast News in Jacksonville, FL, and other ABC local stations, teamed up to report on the continuing crisis of high drug prices. Its opening is chilling: “In living rooms and kitchens across the First Coast, families are choosing between food and vital medicine.”

The report notes that prescription drug spending is much higher in the United States than in other rich countries. Why? “Well, other countries directly negotiate drug prices on behalf of their citizens.” And that explains why Americans are buying medications from outside the U.S., despite the federal restrictions. They are cheaper overseas.

Today I’m not feeling like just slamming Big Pharma and drug companies for their greed. On the heels of this bizarre national election, it’s our elected leaders who need to feel the heat. President Elect Donald Trump states: “Allowing consumers access to imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers.” It’s one of the few things that Americans, Right, Left and Center, would agree on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Why does my medication purchased internationally look different?

PharmacyChecker AsnwersQuestion: I recently bought some Benicar pills from an international online pharmacy who sourced them from a place in Turkey. The pills did not match up with pills I had on hand from a domestic pharmacy. I don’t know if we should use these blood pressure pills as it seems a little strange that both sourced bills shouldn’t have the same markings.

PharmacyChecker Answers…

For generic drugs, the simple answer is, they look different because they have to. Generic medications must be comparable to a brand name medication in dosage form, strength, route of administration, and intended use. However, whether dispensed domestically or internationally, generic medications often have a different shape, color, or size due to intellectual property (patent and trademark) protections on the brand-name medication. Manufacturers of brand-named medications have certain exclusive rights, such as the unique look of a medication, which may include color, shape or markings.

But what about a brand named medication manufactured in other countries? (more…)

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Is Synthroid in Canada the same as in the U.S.?

synthroid-postSynthroid is the brand name for a medication called levothyroxine, which is manufactured by drug company Abbvie in the U.S. and Mylan in Canada. It treats hypothyroidism, as well as enlarged thyroid gland and thyroid cancer. Synthroid sells for about $100 for a three-month supply in the U.S. compared to $32 in Canada. Over the course of a year, since this is a maintenance medication, the annual costs are $400 vs. $128. You compare Synthroid brand prices here. This is a very popular drug: about 23 million prescriptions are written monthly for Synthroid. For Americans who do not have insurance or their insurance doesn’t cover Synthroid, buying it from Canada means real savings. But will they be getting the exact same drug?

After all, there are generic versions of levothyroxine sold in the U.S. that cost even less than Synthroid in Canada: $10 at Walmart for a three-month supply. For most medications (but there are exceptions) your best bet is the lower cost U.S. generic compared to a higher cost brand drug internationally. In the U.S., the FDA affirms that approved generics are bioequivalent to the brands, meaning the active ingredient has the same rate and extent of absorption in the bloodstream (for all intents and purposes they are the same). But for some medications, especially those with a narrow therapeutic index, your provider may not want you to take a generic.  Medications with a narrow therapeutic index have a narrow range between the drug’s risks and its benefits and small differences in dose or blood concentration may matter, meaning it’s more critical that the amount of pharmaceutical ingredient is precise and delivered correctly through the bloodstream. But what about brand products of the same medication made in different countries? (more…)

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Will Trump Stand up to Big Pharma on Drug Importation to Tackle High Drug Prices?

We The PeopleFor the record, while I supported Obama for president, I was highly critical of the Obama administration for its obscenely cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, one that has led to unprecedented increases in drug prices during his tenure. During his first presidential campaign, President Obama had vowed to stand up to drug companies, and he supported allowing Americans to import medication to find savings in other countries. He ended up making a deal with Big Pharma to help him pass Obamacare, dumping his support for Medicare drug prices negotiations and importation.

Candidate Donald Trump voiced his support for federal drug price negotiations to bring down drug prices under Medicare and allowing consumers access to lower drug prices from overseas. Those are two policies that the pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars defeating over the past decade through large contributions to Democrats and Republican alike in Congress. Of course, Americans can order medications online from foreign countries and import them for personal use, but under the Obama administration it has become more difficult and remains technically illegal.

Mr. Trump states on his website: “Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America.” During the Republican Primary President-Elect Trump vowed to stand up to the drug companies, mocking the career politicians who take their money and do their bidding in Congress.

From the Right, Americans who hate the heavy hand of big government will laud a President Trump that tells the FDA not to interfere with their freedom to purchase a lower cost medication from Canada or another country. From the Left and in states that border Canada, such as Michigan, Americans would love to see a president who will stand up to the outrageous U.S. pricing policies of multinational pharmaceutical companies by taking actions to expand access lower cost imported medications.

With high drug prices viewed as the #1 healthcare cost concern in the county, ALL AMERICANS WANT TO SEE TRUMP STAND UP TO BIG PHARMA.

Now let’s see if he does.

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Stand Up for Your RxRights; Fight Big Pharma’s $300 Million Campaign to Keep Drug Prices High

To fight big pharmaLast month it was widely reported that big pharmaceutical companies were kicking in a fresh $300 million for myriad government, media, and “advocacy” efforts to keep drug prices high. The Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, also known as Big Pharma, has asked its members, such as Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer to kick in $100 million more this next year because they know we’re on offense and they’re on defense. Part of their efforts will almost certainly include continuing to chip away at your ability to buy lower cost medication from other countries.

But you can fight back by donating to RxRights. For almost six years, RxRights has advocated on behalf of American consumers who import medication for personal use, many who do so through online pharmacies. Through advocacy, education and rallying Americans, RxRights is a bright light in our movement to end the stranglehold that big pharma has on our government!

RxRights is dependent on real people, everyday Americans who care about their families and friends who can’t afford medications. I know, many of you are looking for prescription savings already and it’s hard to part with your money. For those of you who are seriously cash strapped and struggling to afford your meds, keep your money and make sure you have the treatments you need to stay healthy. But like other Americans, if you’ve benefited financially from lower drug prices in other countries and have some bucks to spare then GIVE! You’ll be protecting your own financial interests and doing the right thing for others who absolutely need the lower prices or won’t get the medications they need to live health lives.

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A Letter from 33 Members of Congress to Obama Commends Expressly Permitting-Legalizing Importation

We The PeopleEarlier this month 33 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama asking him to use executive authority to tackle the crisis of high drug prices in the U.S. The gist of the letter is that Congress is paralyzed (surprise surprise) to act. So, while we wait, and wait, and wait for Congress — the urgency of high drug prices calls for executive action.

One of the steps recommended is to expressly permit Americans to import lower cost medications for personal use. Well, Americans already do that and while its technically illegal, people aren’t prosecuted for doing so, and thus it’s generally permitted. But if it was expressly permitted it would remove the stigma of illegality, embolden many more consumers to import lower cost medication, deflate and defang the scare tactics of the pharmaceutical industry about importation and online pharmacies, and would instill more price competition into the U.S. market to bring down prices at local pharmacies.

A few questions. Don’t we need to pass a new law to “legalize” importation? Why do I choose to bold the phrase expressly permit? Would it be legal or expressly permitted? Maybe both? (more…)

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How can I get Jublia (for treating nail fungus) at a lower price?

PharmacyChecker AsnwersJublia (efinaconazole topical solution 10%) was approved for use in treating toenail fungal infections in 2014. The company which distributes it in the U.S., Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, has a history of charging astronomical prices for its drugs and the situation is no different for Jublia. A 4 ml bottle (enough to treat one toe daily for a month) has a cash price of about $649, and even with easily available discounts, it costs about $550. It will likely be many years before a less expensive generic version is available in the U.S.

So how can you get Jublia at an even lower price? First, Valeant offers steep discounts for those first trying Jublia. As of the time of this writing (10/10/15), if you have insurance which covers Jublia, Valeant will reduce your co-pay for either the 4 ml or 8 ml bottles to just $25, or to $75 if the drug is not covered by your drug plan. If you have no insurance, the discounted price is $125 for the 4 ml bottle, or $200 for the 8 ml bottle. You can get 11 refills at this price (but just one refill if your drug plan does not cover Jublia).

Jublia is sold in other countries at much lower prices than in the U.S. In fact, in Canada, Valeant Pharmaceuticals distributes Jublia at prices far lower than those in the U.S. Many Americans get their prescription medications from outside the U.S. to save money and, although this is not technically legal, individuals are not prosecuted for importing small quantities of medication for personal use. Outside the U.S., Jublia is sold in a larger quantity – 6 ml and 12 ml bottles. Currently, you can get a 6 ml bottle for as little as $95 (plus about $10 shipping) from any of any of several PharmacyChecker.com verified international pharmacies which dispense the medication from licensed pharmacies. This international online price is the equivalent of getting 4 ml for about $67 – more than an 80% discount off the standard U.S. price.

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Medicare Part D Enrollment 2017 Begins Today: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly to Save Money!

Pick a plan man!

Pick a plan man!

We have a sister website called MedicareDrugPlans.com, where you can find basic information about, well, Medicare drug plans, and read reviews of the plans written by people who have used them, and rate your own plan if you have one. We’ve updated our data to include the plans that will be available in 2017.

Why? It’s that time again to pick a Medicare Part D plan. Doors opened today, October 15, and will close on December 7. If you’re one of 57 million Americans, most of them over 65, who are enrolled in Medicare then you either have a plan or are newly eligible for one. There are many plans (although fewer than there once were) and picking one can be highly aggravating. While online pharmacies, drug prices, and personal drug importation are PharmacyChecker.com’s forte, each year since we started PharmacyCheckerBlog, I’ve tried to write something educational, practical, even funny, about the plans and how to pick one at enrollment time. This year I went nuts. Still, if you read through this post carefully, it will teach you about Part D Medicare drug plans: the good, the bad, and the ugly and give you resources to learn even more. First a very little history… (more…)

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Electronic Frontier Foundation Calls Out Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, NABP, Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies, and LegitScript for Internet Censorship

Americans Can't Afford It.

Americans Can’t Afford It.

Last week, an article was published by Jeremy Malcolm, senior global policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, under the appropriate title, “How Big Pharma’s Shadow Regulation Censors the Internet.” Basically, Jeremy explains that due to drug company money and political influence in the United States, there are activities going on both in plain view and behind the scenes that are meant to curtail and even end access by Americans to lower cost medications being sold on the Internet.

I’ve been writing about this – albeit in less Internet policy, theoretical terms –  for years and testified before and warned Congress in 2013 on this issue. About a month ago, I published an article on Circle ID, a source of news and opinion about Internet policy and governance, describing the actions of drug companies to dominate the Internet. My hope was to reach people just like Jeremy Malcolm at organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF is a non-governmental organization, founded in 1990 to defend civil liberties in the digital world. They champion “user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.” Read about its awesome work and history here(more…)

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