US patients again look to Canada in quest for affordable medication (Al Jazeera America, Nov. 7, 2013)


Patricia Leahy — call her Pat — has a brain tumor. She’s lived with it for 40 years now and can even joke about it. Forget something? Must be the tumor. She can laugh because the tumor is benign and isn’t growing. But Leahy, 63, does have ongoing headaches and balance problems, and as she grows older, other health issues are starting to creep up.

Like many older Americans, she needs two hands to count her prescriptions: hydrocholorothiazide, amlodipine, and potassium chloride for high blood pressure; Prilosec for heartburn, Advair for asthma; diazepam for vertigo; ciprofloxacin for diverticulitis; and Fiorinal with Excedrin for migraines.

“This is the little old lady segment of the program,” Leahy said.

But things get more serious when it comes to how much those meds cost. When she worked full time, Leahy’s insurance covered the costs of the whole regimen, more or less. Now, retired and self-insured with no drug coverage on her plan, Leahy found herself paying out of pocket — and it’s not cheap.

“Just the Advair alone ran me $300 to $350 a month,” said Leahy.

Combined, her prescription regime could put a real strain on her finances.

But because she lives in Maine, Leahy doesn’t have to pay list prices for meds anymore. Last month a law went into effect permitting residents there to buy mail-order drugs from certain foreign countries, including neighboring Canada. The so-called Importation Law is the first of its kind and has ignited an intense debate, pitting the pharmaceutical industry against labor, insurers, and local government, with federal regulators caught uncomfortably in the middle.

Read the rest at Al Jazeera America:


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