The Quest for Cheaper Prescription Drugs
By Edward Shanahan
It is early evening on a recent Friday night, and Ann answers the telephone, She tells me that Marcel is calling, Marcel from Manitoba and he wants to talk to me.
Marcel I don’t know, but Manitoba I do. It is the city in Canada. Earlier in the day, we had faxed an order to a pharmacy there for the purchase of prescription medicine to help reduce my cholesterol level.
In recent months I have had to shell out $80.63 a month for a 30-day supply of Lipitor at my nearby CVS mega-drug and “convenience” store. Meanwhile, we found through an Internet search that I could purchase a 90-day supply of the medication through the Glenway Pharmacy in Manitoba for $156, plus $10 for shipping.
What Marcel wanted to know was whether I realized I could substitute a lower-cost drug for the Lipitor, which would have equivalent results in lowering cholesterol levels, and save another $30 to $40 per bottle of tablets. While I appreciated his concern and advice, I said my physician and I had agreed on Lipitor based on information I had from reading popular news coverage of studies done about the effectiveness of various anti-cholesterol drugs.
Marcel said he, too, was aware of those studies, but he just wanted to let me know that I had other choices. Furthermore, he said he would be happy to get in touch with my doctor in Northampton to see if he agreed that it might okay to dispense a cheaper drug, especially since there was no generic version of Lipitor available.
I authorized him to contact my doctor and he said he would make the call himself, all the way from Manitoba, Canada. I thanked him for his professional courtesy and his personal interest in me as a consumer. “Not a problem,” he said in his Western Canadian twang. Read the story.
Marcel’s solicitous telephone call came less than 24 hours after I had watched a televised interview with the Canadian Minister of Health who was warning that Canada may soon call a halt to U.S. residents ability to buy drugs much more cheaply from Canadian sources than they can from U.S. pharmacies.
With a population of 30 million, compared to the U.S. population of 280 million, Canada can not continue to be the “drug store” for America, the health minister said. Prescription drug prices are much lower in Canada because prices are regulated there, he explained.
At some point, he said, Canadian authorities need to ensure there is an adequate supply of drugs for their own population. U.S. drug manufacturers are now threatening to cut back on exports to Canada because of the huge increase in resale to American consumers at significantly lower prices than those charged at the retail level in the U.S., he said.
So it appears that the phenomenon of more and more Americans getting their prescriptions filled from Canada may be coming to an abrupt end, as most good deals eventually do when corporate America finally figures out what is going on.
And, of course, it is neither realistic nor sensible for Americans to expect that the answer to lowering the cost of prescription medicine is to depend on our Canadian neighbors. That is simply not sound public policy.
What is required over the long term is for the U.S. to regulate drug prices, as Canada does, as well as guaranteeing coverage for prescription drugs through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, as it does for specific medical services and procedures.
The spectacle of citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth being forced to “tin cup” lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada, which has to import many of the drugs from the U.S. in the first instance, defies reason.Except, of course, that Canada, like most civilized European countries, accepts the principle that decent and affordable health care is as much a right as free speech, the democratic right to vote, and freedom from oppression and want. That’s why Marcel was calling me from Manitoba.