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Four Easy Steps to Save a Bundle on Prescription Drugs

It might surprise you to learn that your doctor usually has no idea how much you’ll pay for your prescription medication. The information doesn’t appear in medical journals, and asking a drug rep usually brings an evasive “Our product is no more expensive than other medications in its class” or “It’s covered by your patient’s insurance.”

The reason for this is obvious. If physicians knew the price of many drugs, they might be reluctant to prescribe a medication so expensive it causes a patient to forego a few meals every month.

Americans pay the highest price on the planet for prescription medications because our government won’t negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers. The US is a cash cow for the multinational pharmaceutical industry, whose profits are enormous.

But drug store chains are little better. Their profit center isn’t in shampoo, cigarettes, or tacky electronics. It’s in the pharmacy.

Here’s why: for cost-saving reasons, insurance companies prefer to pay for drugs that have shifted over to generic equivalents (obviously, they don’t want to pay for the high-price brand-name drug). But when a drug does go generic, the pharmacies can charge you exactly what they want. And although they’ll charge you somewhat less than the brand name, their wholesale cost of a generic is so low that you’d be astonished at their profit. So the best way to describe their charge to you is “through the nose.”

Here’s one quick example:
Yesterday, I needed six capsules of amoxicillin, an antibiotic that went generic decades ago. At most, it should cost about $2.00. If I used my health insurance, the pharmacy could collect my co-payment ($15.00) AND bill my insurer for an additional $7.00. Therefore, on capsules that cost the pharmacy less than a dollar (wholesale), they could earn $22.00. By opting not to use my insurance I “only” paid $12.00. Get the picture? Even jewelry has a lower profit margin.

Here’s another example:
• The top cholesterol lowering medication is Lipitor, not available generically. One month’s supply of 10-mg Lipitor costs about $80.00.
• If your doctor were to switch you to the generic version of the similar drug Pravachol, the price drops only to $60.00 (if your doc doesn’t check “generic okay,” the price of brand-name Pravachol is a steep $93.00).
• This $60.00 might look cheaper than $80.00 or $93.00 until your check some of the pharmacies in Canada, where the price is a mere $26.00.

Are the drugs the same? Is the generic Pravachol from Canada the same as the generic Pravachol at your local drug store? Yes. Is the government lying to you when it tells you the Canadian drugs could be counterfeit? Let’s just say the pharmaceutical industry makes immense donations to politicians. Some politicians are merely repaying the debt owed for those donations.

Four easy steps to save a bundle on medications:
1. Ask your physician if your medication is available generically. If not, ask if there is a similar medication that has gone generic.
2. By far the cheapest walk-in pharmacy in the US is Costco, whose CEO is reportedly outraged by the high price of prescription drugs. And you don’t need to be a Costco member to use the pharmacy.
3. The best US on-line pharmacy is at Life Extension Foundation (www.lifeextensionrx.com or 1-877-877-9700). They’ll instruct you how to transfer your prescription to their pharmacy. By the way, their generic Pravachol, at $23.00, beats even Canadian prices.
4. It always pays to comparison shop. Canadian pharmacies have been dealing with Americans for years. You can Google “Canada pharmacies” and get a dozen or so. I’ve worked with www.canadadrugs.com for years with excellent patient reports.

You also might write your congressperson and ask for some action on all this.

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