During my recent trip to Europe, I made another startling discovery about the woeful state of America’s 19th century health care system. I needed to get refills on my prescription drugs when I was in Zermatt, so I stopped by the local pharmacy and placed an order. This was for three different drugs I take daily for a typical guy my age for blood pressure, cholesterol, and arthritis.
Since my insurance isn’t valid in Switzerland, I was expecting to get gouged on the bill. I was amazed when I was told it was only $20 for a month’s supply. The tab in the US without insurance was $200. Even the copay with my insurance came to $60. Why are identical drugs manufactured by the same company, Roche, ten times more expensive at home than they are in Switzerland? Even when they are invented in the US?
I asked the pharmacist if she had more of the same pills at these prices. She said sure, that I could buy all I want with a doctor’s approval. So that night, I emailed my doctor at home for new prescriptions. I then marched back in the next day and bought a one-year supply for everything. Total cost: $360, and presumably, Roche is making at least a 20% profit margin on at these prices. The full ticket price for this at home would be $2,400, and the copays alone would total $720.
The savings were enough to take a substantial bite out of the cost of my trip to Europe. US customs didn’t care when I brought them back in. It has to be the multiple 100% mark ups by middlemen along the way, plus some extra cash that somehow gets into the pocket of Blue Cross. The lobbyists in Washington probably cost a bundle too. So if you plan to visit Europe bring your doctor’s prescriptions with you. The savings will amount to a small fortune, enough to buy another trip to Europe.