A Canadian prescription for escalating drug prices

A Canadian prescription for escalating drug prices

As a former consumer writer, it”s my nature to look for bargains whether shopping for groceries, clothing or prescriptions. Price isn”t the only driver in my choices: Quality of service is important, too.

Like many other retirees, I expect to pay my taxes and licensing fees right down to the city tag on the family dog. We hang Old Glory from our house on appropriate American holidays and consider ourselves as patriotic as our neighbors.

But as a senior on a fixed income, I am practicing civil disobedience on one front. I order drugs from Canada to save 30 to 65 percent from what those prescriptions would cost in the U.S.

Many acquaintances do likewise. We don”t have to board a bus or drive to Canada. We dial a toll-free number or fax our orders up north.

“Shush,” said a friend at a party recently, where the topic was under discussion. “Don”t speak too loudly about Canadian drugs. We don”t want to have to bail you out of the slammer.”

I”m not sure there are enough jails to hold all the grannies and grandpas ordering prescriptions across the border. Perhaps that”s why I hear an occasional news item about U.S. agents seizing Canadian drug packages destined for American consumers. Better to seize a package than confront an angry granny at her mailbox.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has said it won”t bother with individuals ordering for themselves, but it will pursue pharmacists and wholesalers who would face penalties if they buy prescriptions in Canada and resell them here. It”s a pity because prescription drugs have increased more than three times the rate of regular inflation in the first quarter of 2021, according to AARP”s most recent “Rx Watchdog Report.”

I don”t understand why Congress has delayed approval of Senate Bill 2328, a bipartisan effort that would authorize reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada. U.S. Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, are sponsors. Even conservative Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott is a co-sponsor. Lott has said he cannot explain to his mother why she sometimes has to pay in the U.S. two or three times the Canadian price for the same products.

The Dorgan-Snowe bill would legalize individual reimportation of drugs from Canada, and would permit pharmacies and wholesalers to import drugs to resell as soon as new safety measures are in place. Under the measure, no drug could be imported that was not FDA-approved and produced at an FDA-approved facility. The bill also would prevent the pharmaceutical industry from limiting supplies to countries and companies that are willing to export low-cost drugs to the U.S.

There are substantial savings in Canada now. To name just a few examples, all in U.S. dollars:

  • Ninety tablets of .15 mg Synthroid, $49.87 locally, compared with 100 tablets of the same medication from Canada for $21.50;
  • A Serevent Diskus inhaler for allergies/asthma, $107 locally; $66.62 in Canada;
  • Sixty tablets of 2 mg Detrol for bladder problems, locally $103.39, $62.32 up north;
  • Hormonal patches for menopausal women: Vivelle Dot, a month”s supply of .075 mg estrogen, costs $37 locally, but in Canada the identical medication, called Estradot, costs $22.55;
  • Thirty tablets of 10 mg Aricept, a month”s supply for those with memory problems associated with dementia, $140.69 here; $126.60 in Canada.

While the last example may not sound like a big savings, multiply it by 12 months of the year and the consumer saves $169.08, a significant amount for many retirees.

It is true that ordering from across the border involves some inconveniences. You must plan ahead and be prepared to wait 7 to 14 days for prescriptions to arrive, and there is a shipping fee. However, if you and a spouse order several months of medications at one time, the shipping fee of about $10 covers both individuals and won”t eat up the savings.

At the same time, you will need to maintain a relationship with a local pharmacy for occasions when you have an illness that requires immediate medication. And you”ll want to maintain duplicate prescriptions of regular medications in case you run out before your Canadian package arrives.

It”s not hard to look ahead and realize that if reimportation is legalized, one could order from still more countries than Canada in the future. And if the global economy is good for business, why not for consumers?

I have found the Canadian pharmacies and their staffs to be as professional as their counterparts are here in the U.S. They regularly call to confirm faxed orders, tell me when a new generic option is available, and notify me when refills are about to expire.

I”ve never received outdated medications from Canada. But I did receive some outdated drugs from an American mail-order pharmacy that once was part of my insurance coverage.

Some observers may ask, why bother with the drug-reimportation bill now? Before long, seniors will have coverage through the Medicare prescription drug benefit. But no benefit can be sustained unless something is done to bring down the cost of prescription drugs now.

Shelby Gilje is the retired Seattle Times Troubleshooter columnist. She is a volunteer member of the Washington State Executive Council of AARP.

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