On a Whim Wm's world travels

22 Mar 2005


Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 12:05 pm

Ahem, I’m talking about prescription drugs. I have been alarmed at the high, and rapidly escalating cost of prescription drugs in the US. For example, my mother has diabetes and alzheimers, and her prescription drugs are her biggest expense (more than food or housing). If I were not helping her out, she would be one of those people who would have to choose between buying her medicines or paying the rent. And as a diabetic, not taking her medicines would mean death. What do people on a fixed income do? I watch in disbelief at all the fuss and millions of dollars being spent on Terri Schiavo, when every day people are dying because they cannot afford common medicines.

But the high cost of drugs in the US was illustrated to me graphically yesterday. One of the drugs I take is Lipitor to lower my cholesterol. When I came over to New Zealand I brought a three month supply, but that is starting to run low. I am still paying my health insurance in the US, so I could get my drugs there and have them sent to me in NZ, but I decided to see first what they would cost here. So yesterday I went to the mall and walked into the first pharmacy I found (called a “chemist” here). Naturally, I can’t actually get the drugs yet, since I don’t have a prescription from a NZ doctor, but the pharmacist was very helpful anyway (people here are like that). She looked up Lipitor and said that the equivalent drug here would be around $10 or so per month. Remember, this is NZ dollars, so even with the weak US dollar that is around US$7.20. A couple of years ago it would have been around US$5.

Now, I didn’t actually know how much Lipitor costs in the US because I have health insurance that covers drugs, but I have a $30 co-pay (on top of the $400/month I’m paying for the health insurance). But this pharmacist had just told me that for less than the cost of my monthly co-pay in the US, I could pay full price and get Lipitor for $10 in NZ. Then the pharmacist added helpfully that the price would be different at different pharmacies and I might be able to find them cheaper somewhere else.

So this morning I decide to look up the prices of these drugs in the US, to find out their retail price. I can’t just walk into a US pharmacy, so I look online in drugstore.com, which offers discount prices on prescription drugs. It isn’t a fair comparison, since I’m putting a discount mail order business in the US — the land of free markets and competition (which we all know results in far lower prices) — against a boutique pharmacy in a mall in liberal anti-competitive NZ. But what the heck. For Lipitor, their (discount) price is $95 for a one month supply. Which seems a bit higher than the NZ$10 I was quoted in the boutique pharmacy. Thirteen times higher.

Some of you might be thinking, hey, doesn’t NZ have socialized medicine? Aren’t their drugs prices subsidized? The answer to both questions is no. NZ does have single payer health insurance, which means that the government supplies basic health insurance to all their citizens. But you still pick your own doctors, and buy your drugs wherever you want. Since I am just a visitor I don’t qualify for their national health insurance, so I would be paying full price.

Note that Clinton tried to get single payer health insurance passed in the US a few years ago, but congress turned it down after a media blitz paid for by the pharmaceutical and health insurance companies. Maybe that’s why they need to charge such high prices for drugs, health insurance, and co-pays. National TV time is expensive, not to mention the major donations to politicians they need to make to keep being protected from that nasty competition from other countries.

So, now I’m thinking I should get my drugs over here. Even though my US health insurance probably won’t pay for me to go to the doctor here and get a prescription, it will probably be cheaper to do that than pay the co-pays for my 3 drugs in the US, and have them shipped over here. Plus I get an extra visit to the doctor out of it. Isn’t competition wonderful?

One last comment. I realize that some people might claim that US pharmaceutical companies need that extra money in order to do research to find new drugs. Well, here’s an article about a new anti-HIV drug being developed that seems to show that drug research is alive and doing well here in NZ.


  1. great post. Can you tell me where I can order some prescription drugs at the savings your talking about.The costs here
    are outrageous.

    Comment by murray — 25 May 2005 @ 10:05 am

  2. I just bought them at a normal drug store (in a mall of all places) here in NZ. I have no idea if you can mail order them. I had to get a prescription from a NZ doctor in order to get the order filled. I had brought over a prescription from my doctor in the US, but that wasn’t good enough. So, what I’m saying is I don’t know. Of course, the real solution is to move to NZ!

    Comment by wm — 26 May 2005 @ 7:24 pm

  3. Hi there! I went to NZ last year and made a website with my stories about it too! What a fun thing to do. So far, the stories you have written about are different topics than the stories I wrote about.

    Thanks for the entertaining trip through your vacation!

    Comment by Wandering Willow — 23 Aug 2005 @ 7:55 am

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