Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) requested an investigation into drug price increases among the Medicare Part D program’s 20 most widely-prescribed medications over a five-year period. The investigation, conducted by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, found that average annual drug price increases were 12%, about 10 times higher than the rate of inflation. One drug, Nitrostat, increased by 477% during the five-year period. PharmacyChecker decided to find out what the savings would be from international online pharmacies for cash payers on these medications. The average potential prescription savings is 80%, further evidence that seniors can benefit from lower drug prices outside the U.S. when their pharmacy benefits are inadequate.
Adding a little spice to this research, we found that 70% of these 20 medications, the ones sold in U.S. pharmacies, are foreign-made, imported drugs. This shows that importation is legal for drug companies that make medications overseas. The countries where they are made get the manufacturing jobs; we get the higher prices!
And what about those drugs made in the U.S., often in Puerto Rico? You can buy those drugs cheaper in Canada. Synthroid is a perfect example. Synthroid, sold in Canada, is made in Puerto Rico and can be purchased for 15 cents a pill, compared to $1.68 a pill in the U.S.: a 93% savings for the same drug.
Here’s a crazy one: The medication Premarin is made in Canada. It’s $6.93 a pill at a U.S. pharmacy, but can be bought online and filled from a U.K. pharmacy for 17 cents: a 98% savings. In this case, the drug made in Canada is cheaper in the U.K. than in Canada.
And what about Nitrostat, the drug that increased by 477% over the past five years? It’s 80 cents a pill in the U.S. and only 28 cents in Canada. The drug is made in Puerto Rico.
Today the New York Times reported that Google is setting aside $500 million to settle what is apparently an investigation into whether it knowingly allowed rogue online pharmacies to advertise in its ad programs. We at PharmacyChecker.com are mentioned in this article because from the summer of 2006 until February 2010, Google’s stated policy was that its pharmacy advertisers had to be approved by PharmacyChecker.com, meeting our high standards. Unfortunately, as we have previously reported, rogue online pharmacies that never applied to our program found a way to advertise on Google. We were never the gatekeepers for Google; that remained their job.
In February of 2010, likely due to pressure from the government investigation and perhaps the pharmaceutical industry, Google changed its policy to exclude all non-U.S. online pharmacies from advertising on Google in the United States. It stopped working with us, as we do not exclude reputable and safe Canadian and other international pharmacies. Google began working with the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS) program, run by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, a program that is only open to U.S. pharmacies. After this change, rogue online pharmacies apparently continued to advertise on Google. In November of last year, to take a stronger stance against rogue online pharmacies, Google filed a lawsuit against rogue online pharmacies, holding them liable for violating its advertising policies.
It appears that the gate through which advertisers enter Google has swung from too open, allowing in pharmacies never approved by us or others, to now just open a crack, where many good pharmacies offering good prices can’t get in. The $500 million allocated for a settlement is probably going to keep that door nearly closed for a while, but we hope that it will eventually swing to a place where rogues are kept out and good players get in. In the meantime, we remain diligently checking and monitoring online pharmacies. You can find them on our ratings pages and you can check their prices too.
Our request was sent to Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns and Ranking Member Darrell Issa.
Mr. Horton appears to have misused and abused his government position for private gain by starting, while in office, an online pharmacy verification service, LegitScript.com, and given unfair market advantage to his business. More importantly, his actions appear to have violated the will of Congress, misled the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and instigated and/or encouraged government actions by ONDCP and other government agencies adverse to the interests of Americans, specifically hindering access by Americans to safe and affordable medication.
As further described in our letter, we believe that, to serve his private interests and those of prospective pharmaceutical and pharmacy clients, Mr. Horton appears to have subverted the activities of ONDCP by ignoring the congressional request found in Section 1107 of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2006 to develop strategies to stop the online advertising of controlled substances without a prescription. Instead, Mr. Horton developed strategic policies for blocking the online advertising of all prescription medication from licensed Canadian and other non-US pharmacies that do require a prescription. Such pharmacies have been a lifeline to affordable medication for millions of Americans.