Cost of Medicine a Hard Bill to Swallow


In a poll, one out of every three people said that paying for prescriptions is a problem for their families. Of those, three out of four said they had put off filling their prescriptions or cut back the doses prescribed by their doctors because of the cost. One in ten people also admitted to buying prescription medicines illegally from a foreign country like Canada or Mexico to get a better price.

Unfortunately, these alternatives to the high cost of prescriptions could be dangerous. Congress is now debating bills that would make it legal to purchase medicine from foreign countries like Canada. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it can't verify that foreign medicines are safe. There's a surprising amount of counterfeit (fake) medicine worldwide. So the medicine you buy from foreign countries may not be the real thing. Indeed, the FDA has intercepted thousands of counterfeit medicines coming into the US from foreign pharmacies. If any problems surface, you may be reluctant to tell your doctor that you bought your medicine from a foreign country.

For example, a woman with a serious bleeding problem waited several days before telling her doctor that she had gotten her medicine in Mexico. She had gone to the emergency room with bleeding gums, blood spots in her eyes, and severe pain and bruising of her foot for many days after stubbing her toe. Her blood tests were dangerously similar to someone who had been taking too much Coumadin (warfarin). Coumadin is a blood thinner used to prevent blood clots, but it has to be used carefully to prevent serious bleeding. The woman denied taking Coumadin, so she was admitted to the hospital for further testing. At one point, her doctor refused to let visitors bring in any food or beverages because he was worried that someone was trying to poison the woman! Two days later, the woman finally told her doctor that she had gotten her blood pressure medicine, Altace (ramipril), in Mexico. When a family member brought the medicine to the hospital, the doctor learned that it was indeed Coumadin. The pharmacy in Mexico had given her the wrong medicine.

You may also find it difficult to tell your doctor if you are not able to fill your prescriptions or take your medicine as directed. This was clearly the case for a woman whose prescription benefits had run out before the end of the year. In November, her doctor had given her a prescription for a new medicine to control her high blood pressure. Sadly, she was too embarrassed to tell her doctor that she could not afford to fill the prescription until January, when her insurance limits renewed. Since she was not taking any medicine, her blood pressure was still high during her next visit in December. This time, her doctor gave her a new prescription for a higher dose of the same medicine. Then in January, when she again had insurance coverage, she filled the newer prescription for the higher dose of medicine. Her blood pressure dropped dangerously low and she had to be taken to the hospital for treatment. There are no easy solutions to the high cost of medicines. But there are often safer alternatives than cutting back on your medicine or buying your medicine from a foreign country.

If you find it hard to pay for your prescription medicines: Talk to your doctor. Don't be embarrassed to tell your doctor if you have trouble paying for your prescriptions. He might be able to prescribe a less costly medicine that will work for you. He also may have samples of medicine that he can give you, at least in small supplies to hold you over. If your doctor gives you samples, always ask for written directions on how to take the medicine. Keep the directions with the sample medicine. Search out assistance programs. There are many patient assistance programs that might be able to help you obtain medicines at no cost or at a significant discount.

Visit these websites for information.

Use caution if you buy medicine on the Internet. Make sure the pharmacy is properly licensed. One way to do this is to look for a VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) seal on the website. In the near future, this seal may be offered to Internet pharmacies from other countries, like Canada.

Created on May 1, 2004

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