Canadian pharmacies attack Medicare Part D

By STEVE MITCHELL, UPI Senior Medical Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Facing a potential loss in business due to the launch of Medicare Part D, Canadian online pharmacies are countering that seniors would save more money by purchasing their drugs from Canada.

RF Drugstore, located in Manitoba, Canada, said its analysis indicates seniors would face fewer hassles and spend less if they purchased their pharmaceuticals from them rather than enrolling in the Medicare prescription-drug program.


"We have analyzed numerous purchasing scenarios using current customers we have on file, and the results are quite clear: The savings are definitely better if our customers continue to buy their medications through our pharmacy," said RF's CEO Helen Tsotsos. "We want to ensure that Americans bypass the confusion tied to this plan, and just look at the hard numbers."

RF said Americans would pay 30 percent to 80 percent less for pharmaceuticals when purchasing them directly from Canada.


"Because the plan is being offered by insurance providers and not the government, they hold the right to increase premiums, change deductibles, change co-payment amounts, even change what drugs are covered and what are not covered simply by adjusting the formularies that they have initially offered," Tsotsos said. "All of those fears and possibilities are unnecessary if American seniors purchase their meds directly from RF Drugstore."

However, AARP said in an analysis in the January issue of AARP Bulletin that seniors would save more money overall by enrolling in the Medicare program.

"Pill for pill, the actual price of some drugs may be cheaper in Canada but Medicare coverage is insurance, and so enrollees are therefore charged only copayments instead of full price," AARP said.

The organization cited the example of one senior, noting she would save approximately $1,400 in the Medicare program compared with purchasing her medications from a Canadian pharmacy.

"Millions of Americans who have never had drug coverage can now save more money through Medicare Part D rather than turning to Canada to get their prescriptions," AARP's CEO Bill Novelli said.

However, the online pharmacy ADV-Care said AARP's analysis was flawed because it is based on a small sample size and only examines a couple of Medicare programs.


"Declaring that the Medicare insurance program is superior to Canada based on 5 cases is statistically inappropriate and completely unrealistic," said Ramy Attalla, director of communications at ADV-Care, based in Toronto.

"If additional drugs were added to each patient example, there would likely be 3 out of 5 enjoying better savings from Canada," Attalla added.

ADV-Care acknowledged, however, that the Medicare program may be less costly for some seniors and that a combination of Part D and purchasing drugs across the border may be the best way to go.

"When people do the math, they quickly realize that Canada can be a stand-alone alternative or a welcome safety-net to the gaps in Medicare coverage," Attalla said. "And the real bonus: it's simple and you don't have to deal with rising premiums, forfeiting other Medicare benefits and the typical insurance run-around."

Gary Karr, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told United Press International that CMS has not done its own analysis but "the AARP study made sense based on numbers we've seen."

AARP spokesman Steve Hahn told UPI the study in the AARP Bulletin "was written to say there is value in the Part D program" in some instances. "But it's not a change in the AARP position," Hahn added.


"AARP strongly supports re-importation from Canada," he said, noting that seniors can save money by purchasing their drugs across the border.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said it concurred with AARP's analysis.

"We agree with AARP and its findings that many seniors would save more money using the Medicare prescription drug program than buying drugs -- which could be fake, substandard or counterfeit -- from purported Canadian websites," said Ken Johnson, senior vice president of PhRMA.

"The Medicare prescription coverage is also a much safer alternative for America's seniors," Johnson said. "The new drug coverage provides savings they need without subjecting them to unnecessary risks associated with importation schemes, where sites claiming to be Canadian may actually be rogue websites run by shady individuals and businesses in other foreign countries," he added.

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