In light of the current debate going on over the $80 billion pharmaceutical deal, I am posting the text of an email I sent earlier this year to my two Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and to President Obama.
I wrote these emails to ask that my representative leaders and the President address the unbelievably high price of prescription drugs in the U.S. Several friends who I showed these emails to suggested I post them on my blog. I have chosen to edit out the names of the prescription drugs mentioned in order to protect some of my privacy but they are otherwise intact.
If you are from the U.S. and haven't contacted your representative to demand health care reform that provides for every American--instead of every health insurance and pharmaceutical executive--I hope reading this email will prompt you to do so.
Dear [Senator, President Obama],
I am a 44-year-old native Los Angeleno and one of your California constituents. I am writing to you about rising prescription drug costs and about an incident where the FDA detained prescription drugs I imported from Canada for personal use for two months.
I am currently self-employed and unable to obtain health insurance at any price because I have been deemed medically uninsurable in the state of California by underwriters. As a result, I have no prescription drug coverage.
I have two common, chronic medical conditions that I have managed with prescriptions since my teen years. Over the decades, I have endured financial hardships to pay for my prescriptions, and I am used to planning my finances around my prescriptions needs. However, in the past few years price increases have outstripped my ability to stay a step ahead of costs.
Taking the advice of one of my specialist physicians, I began to import my prescriptions from Canada to save money. I was hesitant to do so because of the unpredictability of shipping times. If a shipment did not come in time, I would have to scramble to obtain the drugs quickly from a different source, since very serious side effects could result from a missed dosage.
Nonetheless, with some advanced planning, I began importing my prescriptions from Canada. I was aware through reading "Consumer Reports" that the FDA's policy is not to pursue individuals who are importing prescriptions for personal use. So I was very distressed when my early October 2008 prescription order went missing, only to turn up in late December 2008 with an FDA action sticker on the package.
The FDA action sticker is marked "Refused - Return to Sender." Somehow the package managed to get to me, but I have not used the drugs inside because the package was clearly opened. In addition, the FDA Action Sticker includes this message:
FDA REVIEWED THE LABEL(S) OF THE DRUGS CONTAINED WITHIN THIS PACKAGE AND CONCLUDED THEY ARE UNAPPROVED PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS. SINCE THESE PHARMACEUTICALS ARE FROM AN UNAPPROVED FOREIGN SOURCE, WE CANNOT GUARANTEE THEIR SAFETY, DOSAGE STRENGTH, AND PURITY. HOWEVER, UNDER FDA'S ENFORCEMENT DISCRETION, WE HAVE PERMITTED DELIVERY OF THESE UNAPPROVED MEDICATIONS TO YOU. DESPITE YOUR RECEIPT OF THIS SHIPMENT, FURTHER IMPORTATIONS OF UNAPPROVED PRESCRIPTION PHARMACEUTICALS MAY BE REFUSED ADMISSION INTO THE USA.
As a result of this incident, I resumed buying my prescriptions in the United States at the end of last year, at the lowest price I could find. But with the new year, I was distressed to discover that prices on my prescriptions went up considerably. Here is a current cost comparison of my prescriptions at Costco, where I now buy my medications, versus my Canadian provider:
[Prescription name edited]: Costco, $269; Canada Pharmacy, $149
[Prescription name edited]: Costco, $189.93; Canada Pharmacy, $31
[Prescription name edited]: Costco, $94.43; Canada Pharmacy, $34
Yearly supply: Costco: $6640.32, Canada Pharmacy, $2568.00
Yearly cost savings using the Canadian Pharmacy: $4072.32
I would like to point out that that the prescriptions I have cited are not "cutting edge" and are in routine use for common conditions. The pricing of these drugs is outrageous, even more so when one takes into consideration the profit margins of the major pharmaceutical makers.
One of the medications cited above is not even the best available for my condition, according to my specialist physician. The best available drug is sold in France and England for under $10 but is unavailable in the United States because it doesn't offer the kind of profit margins the pharmaceutical companies seek.
I am further scandalized that the FDA can take the time to stop my prescription packages at the border but can't protect the American population from contaminated Chinese food imports, or even contaminated food produced domestically. The FDA says they are concerned for my safety, but their track record says otherwise.
I urge you to take strong action now to control the costs of U.S. pharmaceuticals and to make them affordable to all Americans.