web page consultants:
|01-10-03: Canada drug connection
|Local senior citizens helping others obtain their prescription medicine from outside
the United States
Editor's note: This is a followup on a series that ran in The Daily
Standard last month on efforts to help folks with the high cost of prescription drugs. The
possibility of getting cheaper prescription drugs from Canada was mentioned only briefly.
It has been expanded here.
By PAT ROYSE
The Daily Standard
Tom and Phyllis O'Brien of Celina say they didn't intend to be
activists when they started their quest for less expensive prescription drugs from Canada
three years ago.
But word got around fast that the couple knew how to untangle
bureaucratic red tape and do the research that allows them to legally purchase
prescription drugs significantly cheaper than they can in the United States.
Tom O'Brien now willingly sends out copies of forms, a list of dos and
don'ts, warnings about dot.com outfits that charge U.S. citizens more than Canadians
pay for the same medicine and information about rip-offs. His own price for advice, typed
on the bottom of his letters, says simply, "Help others!"
The O'Briens became activists when they heard sad personal tales of
people who had to make a choice between eating or getting their prescription medicine.
They also heard about people who cut their prescription pills in half to make them last
longer and about seniors whose prescription insurance was canceled, Tom O'Brien said.
Tom O'Brien worked for the former New Idea company in Celina and
retired from public relations at Crown Equipment Corp. based in New Bremen. He told The
Daily Standard the high cost of prescription drugs does not affect just seniors and the
"We are not poor," he said. "But almost anyone with
chronic or multiple medical problems or a parent with a sick child has difficulty handling
the cost. Many uninsured people are not seniors."
Tom O'Brien, 71, and his wife Phyllis, 70, both have emphysema, which
he blames on his previous years of smoking. "I gave it to her," he said. "I
smoked but she didn't."
He reported that on Thursday, the couples' monthly supply of
prescription inhalers would have cost $405 in the United States. By mail from Canada, they
paid $185, saving themselves $2,640 a year.
With a 10 percent senior discount from CVS Pharmacy, O'Brien said
Advair 250 would have cost them $148.97. From Canada, it cost $69.66. Prescription
Combivent cost $52.79 at CVS and $17.60 in Canada. He said he factored in $10 a month
shipping charge for registered mail.
But emphysema is not the O'Briens only medical problem. Over the past
few years, one or the other has been on pain, blood pressure, arthritis, urinary, thyroid
and other prescription medicines. Phyllis O'Brien has osteoporosis so severe that she has
a morphine pump implanted in her abdomen. That is one medicine, (along with other narcotic
prescriptions) that can't be sent through the mail by law. It is purchased here.
The O'Briens mailings and e-mails to those who have contacted them
asking for help include a worksheet to accurately list all prescriptions. The couple
suggests talking with the local physician and explaining what they hope to do. They tell
readers there are no savings on some medicines and that they must send or give their
original prescriptions (no copies) to the doctors in Canada.
The letters advise readers to get on the Internet to check and compare
prescription drug prices, to spend time checking out Canadian pharmacies, to ask for
generic equivalents and to keep a 30-day supply of medicine on hand. It takes about 10
days to get a renewal but plan for longer, Tom O'Brien advises.
Other helpful advice, given with Tom O'Brien's typical humor is:
"For computer help, ask a grandchild like we do."
"If you complain about drug costs to your Congressmen, don't use
e-mail, because they can click delete. Bug them with a letter instead. For better
attention, enclose a substantial campaign donation," he said.
He also advises getting as many free samples as you can from you local
physician, checking out veteran's programs for drug coverage, talking with the Council on
Aging and seeking help wherever they can.
"The computer helps a lot," in that effort Tom O'Brien said.
He advises people to compare prices and be wary, as well.
Initially, the O'Briens traveled to Windsor, Canada, to visit a
doctor's office and to present their prescriptions from their U.S. doctors. The Canadian
doctor looked over the U.S. prescription, and in the O'Briens case, simply rewrote the
U.S. one. (To get prescriptions filled in Canada, Canadian doctors must write them.) The
O'Briens also noted that Canadian prescriptions can only be renewed once, so patients have
to visit their local doctor more often.
The O'Briens have used the same Windsor pharmacy, called Ziter's, since
that first trip. They get followup calls from the pharmacist and doctor and they have
never had to make another trip north. Everything is corresponded through the computer
(ziterpharmacy.com) and telephone.
Another local Montezuma area resident, who got his initial information
from the O'Briens, has branched out on his own. He has used at least three different
pharmacies in Canada that he located on the Internet. He has never visited a Canadian
doctor but uses a doctor made available by a dot.com Web site, which OKs and rewrites the
U.S. prescription and ships the drugs to his home.
Fred, who asked us not to use his last name because he said he is not
yet prepared to answer the phone questions like the O'Briens get regularly, buys drugs in
Canada for his wife, Ida, who has a severe case of diabetes, as well as heart problems.
The local cost for her eight prescriptions runs about $700 every three months in the
United States. "I save at least $100 a month or about 50
percent by going through a
Canadian pharmacy," he said.
Both Fred, who is retired and healthy, and his wife are in their 70s.
Shop around, Fred advises.
"There is a difference in price even in the Canadian pharmacies.
Once in a while, you will even find an AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)
discount card price that is cheaper here < but not often. Even in Canada, you have to
be selective," he said.
Fred is critical of the U.S. government policy and urges sending
letters to political representatives. "Our government needs to get more intelligent
about healthcare and prescription drugs and more sympathetic to people who need the
help," he said.
"What's hard to explain is why the same drugs are cheaper in
Canada than here," Fred complained. "Why is a $4 pill here sold for $1 in
"It is pretty easy to get on the Internet to do the research and
you can find the pharmacies and download the forms. I'm glad I can do it. We are on social
security, have a fixed income and we do not have prescription insurance," he added.
The Internet research and efforts needed to find the bargain prices are
not as easy for everybody.
Clarence Minch of Wabash also tried the Canadian drugs for prescription
but said he couldn't stick with it.
"I saved money on the first prescription," he said.
He estimated he saved about one third of the $300 price per month he
pays here to treat thyroid, heart and stroke medicine for himself and his wife.
But then he said the doctor he was dealing with in Canada upped their
fee. "They got greedy," Minch surmises.
"I have the time to research and call around, but I just don't
have the patience for it," Minch said.
For more information on Canadian prescription help, reach the O'Briens
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The Standard Printing
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH