Are You Overpaying for Your Prescription?
A recent study by the University of Southern California Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics found that 23% of the time, customers were paying more for their prescriptions. The average overpayment, according to research, is $7.69 per prescription. Regardless of your health insurance, you may pay more than you need to fill your prescription.
How and Why Are Prescription Costs So High?
As you might expect, this is tricky. But some of the main factors include the following:
- Drug prices in the US are higher than in the rest of the world. People pay less elsewhere because their pricing is determined by panels or commissions, so the burden of research and development costs falls on the American consumer.
- With Medicare Part B rules now in effect, doctors are incentivized to prescribe more expensive drugs for greater reimbursement.
- Medicare Part B costs are non-negotiable at this time.
- Many generics don’t make it to the market, so brands continue to charge more.
- Big brand drug companies can pay generic drug companies to hold back on the release of cheaper drugs.
Is it Safe to Buy Prescription Drugs Online?
The internet has changed the way we buy things. For about four million Americans, the internet is their go-to place to buy drugs, mainly because it’s often cheaper, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other reasons include convenience and time savings. But buying drugs online on a website most likely hosted in another country can be a risky business.
How is US Rx Spending Stacked with Other Countries?
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimate that prescription drug spending in the US is approx 335 billion US dollars in 2018. The chart below compares the US to other countries.
Rx Retail Expenditure per capita annually
Of the countries shown below, Sweden spends the least on drugs per capita, at $351, while the US spends the most at $1,011.
|Country||Expenditure Per Capita|
|United States of America||$1,011|
Figures like this have made Americans realize how much more expensive prescription drugs are to us than consumers in other countries. This is a strong motivation to buy drugs online given the high prices of drugs.
What Are the Risks of Buying Medicines Online?
Unfortunately, there are parties who buy using online consumers. Since the drugs they sell are generally manufactured in foreign countries, buying drugs online that have not been approved by the FDA can be dangerous. Even when medicines are purchased from a website based in Canada, you cannot be sure if the drug is manufactured there. Thirty percent or more drugs that are actually manufactured in certain regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America turn out to be counterfeit.
Some of the risks for consumers include:
- Purchased drugs can be counterfeit, expired, unapproved, low-quality or dangerous ingredients.
- Because the ingredients and processes may differ, there is a risk that the drug will be harmful to your other prescriptions.
- You can pay and not receive the drug.
- The medicine you receive could be the wrong medicine.
- Information on labels can be incorrect or missing.
- Buying prescription drugs online from fake pharmacies means that you could receive counterfeit drugs, which may be ineffective or have side effects not seen with FDA-approved drugs.
Buying on a fake site can be dangerous in other ways. Sites can:
- Sell your financial information
- Sell your personal information
- Infecting your computer with viruses
- Causing internet fraud
How to Tell if an Online Pharmacy is Fake
So, what should you look for to make sure you are dealing with a legitimate site? Here are some signs that online pharmacies are fake:
- No prescription needed
- Low prices are too good to be true
- Sites sending spam touting low prices
- They send from a foreign country
- They are not licensed by the state board of pharmacy or other state health authorities
On the other hand, legitimate and safe online pharmacies:
- Requires a recipe
- Have a state licensed pharmacist you can talk to
- Have a real physical address in the US that is not a fake storefront
- Hold a license from your state pharmacy board as well as the state in which the pharmacy operates
FDA tips if you buy health products online
To ensure a “real” website, be careful:
- Contact the National Pharmacy Association (NABP) to verify that the online pharmacy is licensed. Or look for the NAVP-certified symbol. Go to nabp.net to talk to someone, use Live Chat or call 847-391-4406.
- Do not buy if the site offers to prescribe medicine for the first timewithout the need for a physical examination.
- Don’t buy if the site sells drugs not approved by the FDA.
- Make sure there registered pharmacist to consult.
- Avoid sites that cannot provide you with a physical address or phone number.
- Beware of sites that push new “cure” or cure-all.
- Beware of sites that tell you that the medical profession, government or research scientists have conspire to suppress the product.
- Look for sites that have case history which uses words like “what a result!”
- Always ask your doctor if it is ok for you to take any supplements or medication first.
Before Buying from an Online Pharmacy
Before you decide whether to buy from an online pharmacy or not, pay attention to certain red flags.
- Do not buy from sites that make unreliable claims that a drug has excellent results (that is, the remedy).
- If the site doesn’t require a valid prescription, don’t buy.
- Only buy from US based sites
- Only buy drugs that are approved by the FDA.
- Instead of assuming online prices are the best you can get, check with your local drugstore if the prices are better.
What to Do If You Suspect an Illegal Online Pharmacy
Contact FDA to Complain
If you think a site may be illegal, report it to the FDA: www.fda.gov
This is a online tools to find out what is required in your country.
Overseeing Regulations at Online Pharmacies
The FDA is responsible for regulating the safety, manufacture, and effectiveness of pharmaceutical drugs. Due to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA may search websites that do not require a valid prescription.
Experience shows that online pharmacy supervision and regulation is most effective at the federal level, compared to the state level. However, the FDA is now working with state regulatory and law enforcement groups to tackle the sale of illegal domestic prescription drugs.
The agency has also signed agreements with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and the Federation of State Medical Boards. All of these groups have committed to helping enforce federal and state laws against illegal internet sellers and drug prescribers in the US
As part of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, a program called Operation Cure. All work to stop the false internet claims that products and treatments cure various ailments.
One study found that 37 out of 46 online pharmacies were deemed to require a prescription or offered to prescribe medication based solely on a questionnaire they gave consumers. As we’ve discussed, prescribing drugs without a prescription is actually against the law.
Money Saving Tips on Prescription Drugs
1. Shopping nearby
Before you get a prescription, contact a comparison shop. While not all pharmacies are willing to give you prices over the phone, many will. This is especially important if you don’t have health insurance coverage, but it’s also good to know the prices to see if your co-insurance payments are actually higher than you would have paid without using your policy.
2. Use local independent retailers
You might assume that the big chain drugstores have the best prices, but this is often not true. Recently Consumer reports the survey concluded that chains actually charge significantly higher fees, with the exception of retailers like Costco and Sam’s Club.
3. Ask about the discount
While usually not disclosed in advance, discounts are often available if you ask. Unfortunately, offers are subject to change, so check back often. Some pharmacies routinely offer discounted prices on generics if you buy a 90-day supply.
4. Buy online – be careful
Getting your prescription filled through a mail-order company can save you money on the medicines you take in the long run. Contact your insurance provider, who may contract certain mail order services. You can usually get a 90-day supply of generics for a price that essentially lowers the amount you would pay for a 30-day supply. Convenience is also a plus. Be wary of online pharmacies that are actually based in other countries, including Canada; they may advertise heavily discounted prices while providing counterfeit products. Always make sure the site has the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site) symbol.
5. Don’t have to use health insurance
It’s possible that a 30-day supply of generics may actually be cheaper than your co-pay, in which case it makes sense to pay without using insurance. However, keep in mind that money spent without insurance will not be used for your insurance deduction or maximum spend.