CVS’ New Policy on Smokes Reminds Me of Its Past Support for Drug Importation

Let’s give a big round of applause to CVS, the second largest chain pharmacy (behind Walgreens), for its decision to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products! To its credit, CVS is not being overly self-righteous, as it largely attributes the policy change as necessary to accommodate legal restrictions on tobacco sales in places where healthcare services are provided: this is in view of its plans to open up more healthcare clinics in its pharmacies throughout the country. So, come October, as per the company’s plans press release, Americans will no longer be able to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products at any of the 7,000-plus CVS stores nationwide.

Unfortunately, removing tobacco products from CVS’ shelves won’t help Americans afford their medicine. According to a survey by Consumer Reports, CVS has the highest drug prices (Costco had the lowest prices, especially on generics). While executives at U.S. pharmacy corporations have steadfastly opposed reforming drug importation laws to bring down drug costs, CVS’ former Chairman and CEO, Thomas Ryan, bravely supported it. To quote Mr. Ryan:

While many in our industry believe that importation is a fundamentally flawed concept and oppose it without exception, I have come to a slightly different view…Millions of Americans already have opted to import drugs because they can’t afford not to. We owe it to them to face this issue head on and not look the other way.

 

That statement was provided by Mr. Ryan in 2004. Since that time, access to affordable medication in the U.S. has only become more difficult due to higher drug prices, and Americans continue to personally import their medication, often from international online pharmacies.

The reason that those online pharmacies are a lifeline is provided by none other than…CVS! CVS/Caremark surveyed their pharmacists about a year ago; 61% cited high drug costs as the number one reason Americans don’t take their meds. Canadian and other foreign pharmacies have much lower prices and so Americans need them.

To be intellectually honest, Mr. Ryan’s idea was not for Americans to buy directly from Canadian or other foreign pharmacies but for CVS to import less expensive medication from verified foreign wholesale pharmacies and then sell it to Americans. Not a bad idea to help bring down drug costs, while keeping American pharmacists employed and corporate profits humming. Thus, understandably, Mr. Ryan’s position was dedicated to the public health and his business interests.

The heart and soul of Mr. Ryan’s position, however, is the public health alone – and not business interests. Once again, he said: “Millions of Americans already have opted to import drugs because they can’t afford not to. We owe it to them to face this issue head on and not look the other way.” They opt to import because brand name drugs are often 90% less expensive internationally. That’s why it’s best to help Americans safely buy medications where they can best afford it instead of looking the other way.

So you can put out that cigarette, get your flu shots from CVS, your generics from Costco and your brand name drugs overseas!

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New Phone App to Help Americans Save at U.S. Pharmacies

A new and portable strategy for saving money on prescription drugs has just hit the market with the LowestMed app from LowestMed.com. Our research finds that the most substantial savings consumers can expect are for generic medications, but far less so when it comes to expensive brand named drugs.

To help American consumers “Find the lowest price… fast” at a local chain pharmacy, LowestMed has created a free smartphone application that uses the current location of your phone to find the nearest pharmacy with the lowest price on a prescription drug that you need. According to the Washington Post, “LowestMed also comes with a free discount card, which can further reduce the price of a medication by between 10 and 85 percent.”

Testing out this new savings strategy, we find that a 30-day supply of Lisinopril 10mg can cost anywhere from $10.00 (Target) to $36.63 (CVS) – the app not only helps you find the $26.63 savings – 73% but also to map the location for you.

 

While savings like those on Lisinopril are great, many consumers may need to turn to verified international pharmacies when shopping for big brand names. Thirty tablets of Plavix 75mg, for example, cost $197.64 at the cheapest bricks and mortar pharmacy on LowestMeds.com, $205.10 at the most expensive. Saving $7.46 per month is nice, but saving $153.10 is not only much better but necessary for some Americans who could simply cannot afford the U.S. price! Plavix costs just $52 for a month supply at the lowest priced international pharmacy in the PharmacyChecker.com Verification program – a savings of 74%!

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Our last post highlighted the end-of-the-month release of the long-awaited generic version of Lipitor, the most popular cholesterol-lowering drug in America. Brand-name Lipitor, manufactured by drug giant Pfizer, has been one of the key contributors to American’s high drug bills for the past 15 years. A generic version will mean massive savings for some and basic affordability for many.

Last week, however, the New York Times shared that Pfizer (unsurprisingly) wants to block access to that affordable generic. Pfizer is going to offer “large discounts for benefit managers that block the use of generic versions of Lipitor” – “When patients submit a prescription for a generic version of Lipitor, they are to be given Lipitor instead.” So, those covered by the benefit managers who accept the discount will end up paying the same high co-pay, despite the availability of a lower priced drug!

These tactics by the largest drug manufacturer to keep drug prices higher are disappointing but not surprising. After all, in addition to lobbying the U.S. government to prevent safe personal drug importation, it funds programs to scare Americans away from buying its own medication at a lower price from Canada and other countries.

Pfizer’s latest move seems to only affect Americans with health insurance who, under the Pfizer/benefit manager deal, would pay $25 monthly co-pays (instead of $10 per month) – that’s $75 for a three month supply. That’s a stark contrast to Americans without health insurance who can pay $535.00 at a local CVS in New York City. By comparing prices of verified online pharmacies at PharmacyChecker.com, the uninsured may at least knock their monthly brand name Lipitor costs to $85.70.

Fortunately, due to the economics of generic drug competition, generic Lipitor prices will eventually offer great savings to the uninsured and we’ll be keeping you updated as those new products come to market.

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Affordable Generic Lipitor Coming to Your Bricks and Mortar U.S. Pharmacy Soon

As reported in the The Inquisitr, due to generic competition, Lipitor prices are going to plummet in the near future, a relief not only to American patients but to U.S. doctors who often find their patients not taking their cholesterol medication due to cost. In discussing his patients, Dr. Thomas Haffey stated in the article:

They often make tough decisions about whether they eat or whether they take the medicines… Any time you can reduce the costs of quality health care, we certainly are happy and encouraged about that.

High drug prices in the United States lead to 10s of millions of Americans not taking needed medication each year. The end of Pfizer’s patent on Lipitor means that Americans will now be able to more easily afford Atorvastatin – the generic name for Lipitor – in local U.S. pharmacies. As of the end of this month, according The Missourian, a three-month supply of generic Lipitor will cost $30. And the Inquisitr article suggests that within six months generic Lipitor will be priced at $5 for a one-month supply.

To maintain market share, Pfizer, the manufacturer of Lipitor, may come up with some competitive sales strategies. For instance, Pfizer may cut costs for insured Americans to only $4/month co-pays. Pfizer is also pushing to market an over-the-counter version of Lipitor, however it is not yet approved for sale.

According to our research, U.S. prices for a 90-day supply of Lipitor 20mg at a New York City CVS costs $535.99, compared to $85.70 at the lowest cost online pharmacy approved by PharmacyChecker.com – a savings of 84%. So if you want the brand name drug you may be better off with low-cost online pharmacies. But, come the end of November, the best prices for generic Lipitor will soon be available in the good old USA.

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PharmacyChecker.com was mentioned this week in a U.S. News and World Report article entitled How to Cut Your Drug Costs. Listed among other effective ways to save money on prescription drugs, the article notes that PharmacyChecker “compares prices of mail-order pharmacies, and can help you find the lowest posted prices.

How to Cut Your Drug Costs reminds readers that buying drugs from Canada – and elsewhere overseas – is technically illegal, but it quotes AARP: “Over the past decade millions of Americans have ignored U.S. law to seek cheaper prices from Canada, most often by mail order.” Notably, AARP found Canadian prices for Lipitor to be about a third less than they are here in the U.S. The fact that the FDA has (to our knowledge) never prosecuted an individual for importing a three-month supply of personal, non-controlled drugs with a valid prescription, means that they too understand the importance of access to safe and affordable medication. (more…)

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