As we close out 2016, I’m not surprised to be reporting and commenting on new survey data by the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that 19 million Americans have purchased and imported lower cost medication from Canada and other countries. I suspect the number is higher and I’m sure it’s not high enough, as I’ll discuss at the conclusion of this post.
First, as reported in Kaiser Health News: “As drug prices have spiraled upward in the past decade, tens of millions of generally law-abiding Americans have committed an illegal act in response: They have bought prescriptions outside the U.S. and imported them.” The Kaiser story also reports that many such purchases are made online and while the FDA warns that many online pharmacies are not safe, “…many medicines purchased from another country are the same as the ones patients buy in the U.S.” That’s all true. The key to safety when buying medications internationally is only purchasing from properly verified websites, ones approved by PharmacyChecker.
Just to recap why importation is a lifeline, let’s look at some highlights from recent data. AARP recently reported that brand name drug prices increased 15.5% in 2015, compared to the inflation rate of .1%. This is the fourth straight year for double-digit inflation for brand name meds. The data comes from tracking the retail cost increases on 268 brand name drugs, as billed by pharmacy benefit managers to health insurers in private and government plans.
In partial contrast, per the research of David Belk, MD, generic drug prices overall have dipped by 2.5% in 2016 after rising substantially for the three years beginning 2013 and ending last year. Still, many essential generic medications continue to be priced hundreds and thousands of percent above what they once were. I wrote about Colchicine earlier this month, a 200-year old drug that treats gout. Barely seven years ago this mediation was a dime a pill, now it’s cash price is almost six dollars per pill! That compares to 41 cents a pill in Canada. And keep in mind, regardless of the dip this year, generic drug prices are up 137% between 2010-2016.
In some respects, for most Americans, changes in drug prices domestically are not what’s most important. To them, it’s the fact that drug prices in other countries are much lower! That’s why millions of Americans appreciate, and for many need, lower prices from foreign pharmacies and import medication for personal use, which of course should not be illegal. In fact, the ethical dubiousness of the prohibition explains why no one is prosecuted for illegal personal drug importation.
Still, the reporting by Kaiser Health News implies that there are an increasing number of Americans buying medication over the Internet from foreign countries, and that’s not necessarily true. In fact, at the end of last year I reported that potentially one million fewer Americans imported medication in 2014 than in 2012, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: from five to four million. The CDC survey asked Americans about their actions to afford medications in the last 12 months; Kaiser’s survey queried them about ever importing a medication for personal use, thus the difference between 19 million and four or five million. Since Americans have been purchasing medications internationally for a long time, with tremendous growth spurred by the Internet, I believe 19 million is a very, very low number – but 4-5 million annually may be quite accurate. But that’s not what is most important.
The question should be: are enough Americans importing for personal use to prevent fewer from going without needed medications? With tens of millions of Americans not filling prescriptions because of cost, we can answer emphatically – NO! Why don’t they. One, it remains technically illegal. Two, misinformation, propagated by big pharma “non-profit” groups, is rampant in the media about the practice being categorically dangerous. Three, the FDA continues its blanket warning against buying medication online from Canada or other countries.
Americans across the political divide are united on very, very few things. In these United States of High Drug Prices, we remain prisoners to the political and regulatory capture of the multinational pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying Leviathan. It’s a tremendously Populist issue. Let’s see what the Trump administration brings to the table…
Happy New Year from PharmacyChecker!Tagged with: AARP, Kaiser Family Foundation, price watch