A Letter to the ICANN Community

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported on the subject s of rogue online pharmacies and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The gist of the article is that ICANN is not doing enough to stop dangerous pharmacy websites. There is reason to believe that ICANN could do more but it could also do too much to the detriment of consumers who cannot afford medication locally. There’s an appropriate middle ground for getting rid of rogue pharmacy sites, but not overreaching and ending online access to safe and affordable medication. Willfully ending such access threatens the public health and treads on global norms relating to human rights and access to medications.

Earlier this month I attended an ICANN conference for the first time, which was in Los Angeles. We’ve written on several occasions about the application by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) to ICANN to operate a new generic top level domain (gTLD) called “.pharmacy”. To remind many of our readers, gTLDs are the endings of websites, such as .com, .org, .gov, .edu, .int, etc. The bottom line here is that we and many others believe that NABP, if its application is successful, will use its new ICANN-conferred legitimacy to stifle competition, mislead the public about online pharmacies, and in doing so curtail access by Americans and consumers worldwide to safe and affordable medication online.

I met many dedicated, interesting and well-informed people at the ICANN conference, including those serving within the ICANN community and others following it closely. To follow up with them I wrote the following letter.

(more…)

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FDA Hunting Down Drug Counterfeiters and Online Pharmacy Bad Guys

When you’re fighting for something you believe in sometimes you lose perspective, and that can lead to overreaction and self-righteous indignation. I’ve been very critical of the FDA because I believe the agency is not doing right by Americans consumers on the issue of online pharmacies and personal drug importation. FDA seems incapable of admitting that there are safe international online pharmacies that help Americans afford medication, and its BeSafeRx program is right out of the big pharma playbook; and…wait, wait, there I go again…

The FDA, specifically its Office of Criminal Investigations, expends a lot of time and energy tracking down people who are intentionally selling fake, expired, or otherwise clearly dangerous pharmaceuticals. Those efforts save lives and ought to instill fear in those perpetrating these acts or those considering doing so. We should and do applaud FDA for those efforts. (more…)

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Seniors Find Frustration With Medicare Drug Plans

Since open enrollment began two days ago, Medicare beneficiaries all over the country have been looking for new Medicare Part D plans. In fact, based on our analysis of recent Part D Reviews on MedicareDrugPlans.com, you’d think most enrollees were looking for new plans! Of the past 50 reviews on the site, this is what we found:

  • 44% had customer service issues, including unresponsive service, rude representatives, and billing and enrollment errors.
  • 42% complained about mail order issues, such as shipments taking too long, poor packaging and instructions, and poor website experiences.
  • 30% had problems prescribed drugs not being covered, inaccurate pricing, or coverage refusal after requesting authorization.

While we can’t say much about how to prevent dealing with mail order pharmacy or customer service issues, we know that you have the power to tackle formulary problems. Just so we’re clear, the way to find out which plans cover the drugs you need is at the government’s site, Medicare.gov – not on MedicareDrugPlans.com. MedicareDrugPlans.com serves as a listening board for what you need to look out for when you pick your plan, and is meant to be a supplement to the government’s site, so we recommend using both while selecting a plan. That way, you can make sure your drugs are covered and hopefully avoid any unforeseen issues.

Finally, it’s unfortunate that most of the reviews and ratings of Part D plans are negative ones. We want positive ones! We know that many Americans are benefiting from the plans. To whomever this applies: please help your peers by reviewing and rating the Part D plans that you like.

Good luck searching for the right plan!

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Online Drug Scammers Peddling Fake Ebola Cures

If you receive an e-mail or see a web page offering to sell you anything that cures, prevents, or treats Ebola, you can be sure it’s a scam. That’s because there currently aren’t any drugs that prevent or treat Ebola, though there are vaccines and treatments in the works. If you see any companies that sell these falsely marketed products, report them to the FTC or FDA.

For more, check out the FTC blog.

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The Online Pharmacy Propaganda Show — In the Lion’s Den Part II

Drug Companies Front and Center at PSM Interchange Conference

Drug Companies Front and Center at PSM Interchange Conference

Two weeks ago I brought you some highlights of the PhRMA-led Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) Interchange propaganda show, which was held on September 18th. Look over to the left. See that picture. Those logos of big pharmaceutical companies make it abundantly clear who is pushing the distorted message of PSM about personal drug importation and online pharmacies.

I’m not joking about the word “propaganda” applied to the PSM event. The online Merriam Webster dictionary provides the following definition for that word: “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.” In this case, as I see it, the “cause” of PSM is the commercial agenda of the pharmaceutical and U.S. pharmacy industries cynically couched behind terms of patient safety. A central message of PSM is that Americans are risking their lives buying medication online from other countries and that there is no way to do so safely. Those are false and exaggerated messages that are potentially leading lawmakers and regulators to overreact and scare Americans from a potential lifeline of affordable prescription drugs. Evidence shows that this has been PhRMA’s communications strategy for more than a decade. (more…)

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October 15th is just under two weeks ago, and while that date might not mean much to those not enrolled in Medicare, it marks the beginnings of open enrollment for Medicare’s Part D pharmacy benefits. That means that if you are looking for a new Medicare plan, you have until December 7th to do so. Even if you don’t think you need a new plan, you should check out what’s available, for a variety of reasons:

  1. Your plan may be discontinued, in which case, if you do not act, you might be transferred to a plan that is worse for you. There are 14% fewer plans in 2015 than there were in 2014.
  2. New plans exist, and they might be better than your current plan.
  3. Your prescription needs have changed. If you started taking a new medication in 2014 and it wasn’t covered by your current plan, or required you to spend more out-of-pocket than you expected, it might be time to switch to a plan that covers any new meds.

Our sister site, MedicareDrugPlans.com, can help you find a new plan. It compares premiums, deductibles, and even lets you know if drugs are covered during the coverage gap. More importantly, you can read reviews from enrollees who have actually signed up for these plans! Knowing the costs and coverage can only go so far, as these reviews tell us:

Alabama, TennesseeCigna-HealthSpring Rx –Reg12

“I have been trying to sign up for this plan but have a very hard time getting answers. Many of the telephone reps answer questions with “I don’t think so or I’m not sure” which is not helpful. They also require you to sign a statement that says “Humana has the right to change the program at any time if they notify the customer.” I have been told that this is just a formality but it makes me nervous.”

New YorkFirst Health Part D Value Plus

“I used this plan in 2013 and it was pretty good…most prescriptions cost me 0. But some prescriptions were not covered and I had to scramble to find the drugs elsewhere. Their cost per month was good, but now it is going up, and I will be switching to a cheaper monthly cost plan.”

Once you read reviews and compare plans on MedicareDrugPlans, head over to the government’s site, www.Medicare.gov, at which you can type in the drugs you take and find out which plans offer the best coverage for you. Using Medicare.gov and ratings from MedicareDrugPlans.com will help you make a fully informed decision. And don’t forget to leave a review on MedicareDrugPlans, so your fellow enrollees can learn from your experiences. Good luck finding the plan that is best for you, and don’t forget to enroll by December 7th!

 

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The Lion’s Den of Big Pharma’s Online Pharmacy Propaganda: 2+2=5

male_lionIn George Orwell’s famous novel 1984, published in 1949, we find a future in which totalitarian, one-party rule has run amuck on a global scale. It is a world in which whatever “The Party” (think Communist or Nazis) states is a fact must be believed, regardless of the obtuse logic and propagandistic origins of that so called “fact.” The quintessential and frightening example provided by Orwell is the notion that 2+2=5 if The Party Say’s so. When I attended the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) conference last week, it felt as if many people were willing to believe absurd notions about online pharmacies. Most positions espoused at PSM’s conference support the following fallacious statement: IF an online pharmacy is not based in the U.S. and sells prescription drugs to the U.S. THEN it is dangerous. They essentially put on a show in which different people in a myriad of ways communicate that 2+2=5.

The event, called the PSM Interchange, is a Lion’s Den with many people who are directly paid by drug companies, indirectly paid by drug companies, U.S. pharmacies or their trade groups, or those who would like to be paid by the aforementioned entities someday, either directly or indirectly. PSM’s stated mission, “working together to protect the safety of your prescription drugs,” is, it seems, a smoke screen for big drug companies working together to keep drug prices as high as possible in their most cherished market – America. (more…)

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The opinions and research of two Americans, published this week in local newspapers, epitomize the position of millions of Americans: drug prices are too high and safe personal drug importation is a smart way to afford medication. Tom Kennedy compared prices between the U.S. and Canada in 2003, and he is doing it again 11 years later. His guest opinion in the Billings Gazette has shown that U.S. prices have increased 153% for the drugs he tracked since 2003, far outpacing the rise in income and cost of living. He has some good economic insight and analysis, and I recommend reading his whole opinion, which you can find here.

David Di Saia, from North Providence, Rhode Island, found that he could save $480 a year by using a Canadian pharmacy instead of the pharmacy associated with his Medicare plan. And that’s just the savings for one medication! Imagine the savings if he had to order more than one drug. You can read his story, which is “sad, but true” on the Valley Breeze website.

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Will your private health insurance cover Sovaldi? (Part 2)

Back in July, we brought you Part I of a series of posts about how to afford Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), the new Hepatitis C (Hep C) cure in the form of a $1,000 pill — $84,000 for the standard 12-week treatment. We focused on consumers paying for Sovaldi in cash. It wasn’t pretty.

Thankfully, most Americans who are taking and will take Sovaldi are covered by health insurance. And if Sovaldi is on the drug list of your health insurance plan then the cost can be a co-pay of $75/month or sometimes $175/month, which is not too bad all things considered. However, as we know – health insurance policies don’t cover all medications, even ones that are far less expensive than Sovaldi. Not surprisingly, health insurance companies are resisting open coverage policies for Sovaldi. In fact, there’s a big battle brewing between Big Health and Big Pharma about who is to blame for problems with affordable access to Sovaldi and other specialty meds – but that’s for another day.

The short answer to the blog title question is – Sovaldi coverage depends on multiple and often technical variables, such as, your age, current health, efficacy of other treatments, intolerance to treatments that are recommended to be taken with Sovaldi, Hep C genotype, history of drug abuse, and more! Herein I do my best to shed some light on what’s up. I believe you’ll find below that most privately insured Americans with Hep C are not guaranteed access to Sovaldi. (more…)

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Specialty drugs have been in the news for their exorbitant prices lately. Gilead Sciences’ Hepatitis C cure Sovaldi has received media exposure for costing $84,000 and in 2012, when Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center refused to use the colon cancer medication Zaltrap because of its $11,000 a month price, the manufacturer responded by offering discounts of 50%. Will these high prices come way down once the medications go generic?

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, examined costs and utilization of specialty drugs (specifically cancer meds) as generic versions are introduced. Generally, prices for generic drugs drop as more manufacturers produce them due to price competition. This should presumably happen for specialty drugs, but there’s a catch. Many specialty drugs have a small user base and some of them are formulated as solutions or injection, which may require more specialized and expensive manufacturing processes compared to traditional oral drugs (i.e pills, liquids). For those reason, the drugs price discrepancy between brands and generics is not as great among specialty medications compared to regular medications.

The study didn’t analyze the best way to actually pay for these medications. But a recent analysis by HealthPocket took a look at Obamacare plans and specialty meds. Check that out here. We are still researching paying for specialty drugs and will have our own analysis and tips for saving at some point in the future.

Keep in mind that over time specialty drugs, such as Sovaldi, will go generic in the U.S. and be prices considerably lower than the brand. But unlike many pills for high blood pressure, depression, or cholesterol, you won’t find $4 Zaltrap at your local Rite-Aid anytime soon.

I wish I had a more concrete answer and analysis on the prices and access to specialty meds. It’s something that we here at PharmacyChecker.com are keeping an eye on, and we will certainly have updates in the future.

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