As drug costs surge, US patients turning to Canadian pharmacies

by Leo Almazora14 Nov 2016
"As someone who gets up and goes to work every day, I couldn’t pick up the tab… It would be more than my mortgage payment," lamented Chris Drews, whose 85-year-old mother takes around 27 prescription drugs daily, according to a news report on US media outlet WPTV.

Citing an AARP study, the report said that prices of the top 10 drugs in the US have gone up 100% since 2011. Prescription drug prices have also significantly outpaced inflation. “It’s a greed thing,” said Drews, accusing drugmakers of overcharging.

The high costs have forced many Americans to ration or go without their medications, with serious consequences. “Most days I encounter someone in the emergency room who has rationed their medications in some form,” said Dr. Brand Delhammer from Wellington Regional Center.

Online coupons can only go so far to lower costs: Drews and his mother were able to save US$171 a month on three of her prescriptions, but still needed to pay the remaining US$923.

Recognizing the problem, Bill Hepscher founded the Canadian Med Store 15 years ago. His business lets Americans save on drugs by helping them legally get up to three months’ worth of prescriptions filled in Canada or other countries. “We're not a pharmacy,” he said. “We're a facilitator.”

A letter to WPTV from the FDA has warned consumers against buying non-approved drugs from other countries, calling it a “potentially dangerous practice.” Hepscher dismissed the warning, saying that unlike some fake Canadian pharmacies online, he buys only from licensed pharmacies that sell drugs approved by drug regulators in those countries.

“That I think needs to be the question: Why do we, here in the US, pay so much more than the rest of the world [for the same drug]?” Hepscher asked.

One reason is a difference in the ability to negotiate. Unlike Canada’s healthcare provider, the biggest US healthcare providers, Medicare and Medicaid, cannot haggle with drug companies.

Last month, 34 congressmen sent a letter to sitting US President Obama asking for additional oversight on drugmakers and looser rules on drug importation, but it has not yet resulted in any legislative action.

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