It’s no secret that the American health industry is more complex than ever, plagued by price spikes and bureaucracy. Americans pay more per-capita for health care than citizens of any other country, yet ranks last when it comes to health outcomes compared to other rich nations.
One of many reason for this mind boggling discrepancy is that many Americans cannot afford follow up visits with doctors and discontinue necessary treatment because the cost of medication is too high. In one survey of 1,037 US adults with long-term prescriptions in 2015, 40% had attempted to cut costs by splitting pills or skipping doses.
In order to get to the bottom of why drug prices are so high, a recent Consumer Reports investigation comparison shopped for five generic drugs at stores around the country. What they found was that the retail pharmacy chains and grocery stores frequently charge 10 to 15 times bargain outlets and webstores like Costco and healthwarehouse.com.
While that may be good news for consumers looking to save money the next time they fill their prescription, there are some downsides. Many ‘pharmacies’ that are easily found offering deals online in fact put consumers at risk by selling fake pills, selling untested medications, and providing prescription drugs without a prescription or guidance. As many as 62% of medications purchased online may fall into these categories.
Nevertheless, Americans looking to fill their prescriptions online can follow a few easy guidelines to avoid dealing with these bad eggs. To start, the National Association Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) accredits online pharmacies and monitors their activities to ensure that they adhere to strict operating guidelines. These websites display the VIPPS Seal on their website and are also listed on the NABP website here.
Consumers who find a deal at a website not listed with NABP should proceed with caution. Customers should particularly avoid sites that are clearly operating outside of the US, including ones that claim to be Canadian, as these are usually selling knock-off products.
Shopping online is clearly the way for savvy consumers to save big on prescriptions and especially pharmacy supplies such as bottles and other staples that do not pose a health risk. However, consumers concerned about safety, and especially those who regularly take several medications, should carefully consider the benefits of keeping their prescriptions at a brick and mortar pharmacy, where trained pharmacists can offer advice and stay on the alert for dangerous drug interactions.