At the beginning of this year, we brought you the story of Lu Yong, a Chinese citizen with Leukemia who was facing severe financial hardship due to the $3,783 monthly cost of his cancer medication, Gleevec. Mr. Lu found out he could order Veenat, a generic version of Gleevec, from India for a more affordable $640 a month. Soon thereafter he started helping fellow Leukemia sufferers – a thousand of them – access Veenat, in effect helping save their lives. Mr. Lu was rewarded by being charged with selling counterfeit drugs and credit card fraud!
The problem was that Veenat, an entirely genuine, legally manufactured and effective medication approved in India, is designated as “counterfeit” and unapproved in China. The credit card fraud charge was brought because Mr. Lu used other patients’ credit cards to order their medicine.
So, our earlier blog post on this story was called “Low Cost Counterfeit Drugs Save Lives in China…What?!” Seem like a stretch? Not really. Medication deemed “counterfeit” was in fact saving lives. A Chinese court seemed to agree, determining that Mr. Lu’s action should not be construed as “selling counterfeit drugs” since the medication was genuine. Additionally, because his use of other people’s credit cards was to help them, it was not “criminal behavior.” For more read about it in Chinese Radio International.
Lu Yong is a prescription access hero and we applaud him rancorously. Kudos to the Chinese legal system as well.
Tagged with: China, generic gleevec, Gleevec, lu yong, veenat
I wish I was joking about the racy headline above. The United States is not the only great power in which citizens go without medication because of cost. The cancer drug Gleevec (imatinib), made by Novartis, costs 23,500 yuan, or about U.S. $3,783, per month, in China. Gleevec is not covered by health insurance in China so people there must pay for it out of pocket. Ten years ago, Lu Yong was diagnosed with chronic myelocytic leukemia and was prescribed Gleevec. After facing bankruptcy due to his drug costs, Lu discovered a generic version of Gleevec, called Veenat, and began purchasing it by mail-order from India where it is an approved drug, at a cost of only 3,000 yuan, or about $482, per month — 87% less than the brand name drug.
Lu’s condition improved quickly using the generic version. He began to help people with leukemia who he met online obtain Veenat. Now, according to the English edition of Caixin, an independent Beijing-based media outlet, he is facing criminal charges for credit card fraud and selling counterfeit medication. The same story was covered by official Chinese media under the headline “Leukemia patient prosecuted for buying pills overseas.” Lu has helped 1,000 people with leukemia obtain treatment. Three hundred of them are petitioning the authorities to have his name cleared.
The medications involved are real and clearly life-saving! So why is Lu being prosecuted for counterfeit drugs? Under Chinese law, any drug not specifically licensed for sale in China, even a genuine medication lawfully manufactured by an authorized drug company, is considered counterfeit.
The charge of credit card fraud was based on Lu’s using a foreign credit card to make the purchases. Lu said he did so because using domestic Chinese bank-issued credit cards for international purchases is nearly impossible.
Lu was not charged for procuring his own cancer medication. The charges were for directly facilitating the purchase of the drug for 1000 people, who consequently regard Lu as a hero.
When people can’t afford to obtain life-saving medication locally, the U.S, and all countries, should consider themselves morally obligated to expressly permit their citizens to obtain it internationally.
Tagged with: China, Gleevec, imatinib
A few weeks back we wrote about drug affordability problems related to high deductible Obamacare silver plans. A new report finds problems across all four tiers for patients requiring expensive specialty drugs. Many plans have co-insurance rather than a fixed co-pay for these medications, which means patients pay a percentage of a drug’s price rather than a flat fee. In fact, over 50% of bronze, silver, and gold plans studied had co-insurance rather than fixed co-pays for specialty drugs. That compares to only 38% for platinum plans.
According to Wellmark, “Specialty drugs are prescription medications that require special handling, administration or monitoring. These drugs are used to treat complex, chronic and often costly conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, and hemophilia.”
Pamela Morris, of Zitter Health Insights, said “A lot of times, if someone has coinsurance their first exposure to OOP [out of pocket costs] is at the pharmacy, where they may be unsure if they’ve met their deductible or if the costs are purely coinsurance.”
So how big could this price shock be? Let’s look at Tecfidera, a sample oral Multiple Sclerosis drug. The cash price is around $6,000 for 60 capsules of the 120 mg dose. Even if your co-insurance is 25%, that’s $1,500. You can purchase the same amount for $1,200 from an international online pharmacy. Still expensive, but a $300 savings is nothing to scoff at. And it’s likely that the co-pay would be even more than 25% in which case the international savings could be much higher.
Gleevec, a medication used to treat certain types of leukemia, is around $29,000 for 90 pills. That will cost you $7,500 if your co-insurance is only 25%. Using an international online pharmacy, you can purchase 90 pills of generic Gleevec for $725 from a Canadian pharmacy. This may even be cheaper than using Novartis’s patient assistance program for brand name Gleevec. The program has strict eligibility requirements but is worth pursuing if you believe you’re eligible.
We’re sorry to report that many specialty meds may not be safe to order from an international online pharmacy. Some might be extremely temperature sensitive, others are administered in a clinical setting, only sold by specialty pharmacies, and some aren’t even approved for sale outside the U.S. For some specialty drugs, the savings might not even be that great, as prices are high globally!
We promise to research all avenues of savings for these medications and report back to you soon…
Tagged with: Gleevec, Obamacare, specialty drugs, tecfidera