Medications from Abroad – What You Need to Know
Many of us have heard about cheaper medications that can be purchased outside the United States. These purchases are usually made on-line and in most cases are made from pharmacies operating in Israel or Canada. Given the passing of the new “Health Care Reform” (which is a topic of much discussion by itself) – it is a good time to take a look at this phenomenon and see what it is all about.
The first thing one must ask oneself is why?
Why purchase medications from outside the United States? The answer is simple, one can get the same brand name medications abroad for far less money – in some cases even up to a 500% saving (yes you read that right). For example Azilect a Parkinson’s medication manufactured by Teva (an Israeli company that happens to be the world’s largest manufacturer of medications) can be purchased abroad for about $190 – where as that same medication cost $385 at your local pharmacy (that makes a 50% saving). Now the reason for this amazing saving is simple – prescription drug pricing in the US is not Government regulated therefore the prices they charge are high. Don’t blame your local pharmacist – he is making a small margin for all the work he does.
You might not realize this but there are a number of reasons for one to purchase medications abroad. First of all, there are about 49 Million Americans that don’t have any health insurance at all. The reasons why they don’t have insurance are many -some are unemployed, or decided not to take insurance, some are self-employed the bottom line is that they don’t have any coverage and medications without coverage are very expensive. So for them buying medication abroad can save them literally thousands of dollars.
A second group of people that can benefit from medications abroad are those people on Medicare who have reached the Medicare gap. The Medicare gap is a clever way the federal government gives people coverage – but does not give them coverage. It is commonly referred to as the “donut hole”. The “donut hole” means that if your prescription medications reach the sum of $2,830 and until your durg medication cost pass $6,440 – one will pay 100% out of pocket (hence the terminology “gap” or “donut hole”). Furthermore, a Medicare patient actually pays the first $310 out of pocket as well – making the total payments up till $6,440 equal to $4,550 out of pocket. According to the new health care plan this is supposed to be phased out by 2020 – but many are skeptical about what will really happen.
The last group of people that can benefit from purchasing medications abroad are those people with a large deductible or a high co-payment. So for example if someone has a $2000 deductible on his policy and he needs to take $3000 worth of medication a year – if he can purchase his medications at a 50% discount he will be paying $1500 annually and he will save himself $500 – and not have to bother with insurance company reimbursement.
One of the questions commonly asked by people is “How do I know the medications I purchase from abroad are good quality?” There are a couple of things you need to look out for.
1. The source of the medications and the type of medications. The source of the medications is exactly that – where do they ultimately come from? For example, one can purchase medicines from a foreign pharmacy in Canada and the medications can come from India, the Philippines, Turkey or Israel. Therefore you should not say – I will not purchase medications from abroad – rather you should make sure where the medications are supplied from. Purchasing medications from Israel is a very safe way to go as Israel is a world leader in Bio-Technology and is proud to have the world’s largest generic (and lately original) pharmaceutical company – Teva.
2. The type of medication you are purchasing. If you are buying a branded medication (say Lipitor) then it is the same as if you buy locally (in some cases it is sold under a different name outside the US – but it is still the same medication). The medication is made under license or by the manufacturer in plants throughout the world. If you are buying a generic brand then you should be sure that it comes from a pharmacy in a country that has standards acceptable to you (like Israel).
3. Dosage and strength of the medications you are purchasing.
4. Pack size, At times you will find that medications with the same name can be sold with a different pack. For example, you might be purchasing your medication in a standard 30 day pack – while abroad it is sold in a 28 day pack
The way to avoid any difficulties is to deal with a reputable pharmacy that has a clear description of the medication on the company web site, or by calling and speaking directly to the pharmacy. You should never purchase prescription medication from a store that does not require you to send in (or fax) an original prescription.
In general ordering from a pharmacy operating outside the US is easy, convenient and can save you a substantial amount of money. The process is straight forward and requires you to provide a current prescription and some information about yourself and your credit card. In most cases the medication should be delivered to your door in a week or so. Be sure to pay attention to delivery times as regular international delivery (as opposed to expedited shipping) can take up to 2-3 weeks to arrive. This should be OK – if you don’t need the medication urgently.
One of the better places to purchase medications is from Israel whose health ministry closely follows FDA guidelines. Furthermore, Israel is home to the worlds largest generic manufacturer – Teva.
In conclusion, purchasing prescription medications outside the United States is convenient, easy and can save you money. Paying attention to which pharmacy you use and some minor naming and packing changes can really make a difference to ones budget during these difficult financial times.