Graham and I just came back from a short vacation in Puerto Vallarta. Close friends from our time living in West Virginia have a timeshare there and have been going annually for twenty years. They’ve invited us before but since Graham was teaching daily then and the timing never meshed with his spring break from Marshall University, we never could schedule it, until now.
Graham is currently teaching one forensic chemistry course for the fall, winter and spring quarters at Western Oregon University. He teaches Wednesday evenings so last week after class we headed to Portland and spent one night in a motel close to the airport. They offer free parking and provide an airport shuttle. That cost us about $20 more than parking in the long term lot and saved us from having to leave home at 4am to catch our southbound flight. We returned the next Tuesday and so, he will not miss teaching any classes.
It was a short but sweet vacation, valued highly because of time spent with friends who live in Kentucky. We appreciate the ease of communication Facebook and cell phones permit, but nothing is better than to give hugs in person.
Based on my Facebook postings it looks like all we did was eat…and drink. LOL
But I also went prepared with two prescriptions from my allergist. He said he writes them all the time for both Mexico (you must present them in person) and Canada (you can handle the transaction by mail).
I want to explain the reason I travelled with the hopes of purchasing two medicines and then tell you about the experience.
When we first moved to Oregon, my health insurance was part of Graham’s retirement package. It moved me from PEIA (if you have been following the news recently you know West Virginia teachers went on strike to win a 5% raise and no change in their health insurance rate from PEIA. The state had offered a 1% salary raise which was more than negated by a higher increase in the employee share in the health insurance premium. I am so pleased that it took teachers in all 55 counties to stand strong to win this concession from the state legislature but the issue is still not over…more wrestling ahead…but this blog is not about that fight. Just suffice it to say that West Virginia schools are severely underfunded while people in power issue themselves plenty of perks. Seems to be the culture these days throughout the country.)
Okay, back to my story. My health insurance was with a national company and worked fine. It cost me about $500 a month. Then the ACA passed its Supreme Court test for the mandate that EVERYONE must buy health insurance and I switched over. My insurance premium cost me $550. That was based on the prior year’s income and of course, Graham had retired and our income was significantly reduced. I appealed for a reduced premium and in their infinite wisdom I was moved to Oregon’s Medicaid expansion, the Oregon Health Plan.
I was initially concerned because I assumed that the healthcare I received would be of lesser quality but with the exception of only one questionable doctor visit, I was very pleased. The clinic was prompt, the staff was very friendly, and the doctor usually spent at least 30 minutes with me, or longer if needed.
I rolled through that system for 18 months but at the next renewal the questions changed and I got bumped out. Back to the ACA. My new premium was $462 a month BUT it would not start coverage until January 1st. My OHP plan ended September 30th. That left me three months without any insurance.
I pleaded with each organization to let me stay longer or to pick me up sooner but was told no. I have found out since them I should have called the state insurance commission and it would have continued the OHP the three months. Remember that if it ever happens to you.
What it meant to me was I needed to pay cash for my prescriptions. The blood pressure medication was not bad ($60) but my two prescriptions that help me breathe were close to $1000. Per month. Simply, we could not afford that.
I picked up my medications the first work day in January and went to the allergist (after I got a referral) about 3 weeks later. My lung function was measured at 37%.
Two months later, back on daily meds, it was up in the high 70s. In other words, I need this medicine to live. Each time Congress plays around with dismantling the ACA I know I can expect to die. I understand I am not alone. I do not generally join in with conspiracy theories, but it is easy to believe “they” want “us” to die.
So flash forward to my friends’ invitation to join them in Puerto Vallarta and our pre-trip discussion about what we want to do etc. She mentioned that the farmacias there have medicines at much lower prices than here. Hence, the request and issuance of those prescriptions for my breathing.
They had one of the medicines I needed at the pharmacy we visited the last evening we were there. (Yes, I should have started this part earlier but……) I was able to purchase the medicine that helps my lung function, Symbicort.
The cash cost for the Symbicort here is between $400-$450, even with discounts. The cash cost for the same amount of medicine in Mexico was $80.
The packaging is different, but sometimes when I get my prescriptions refilled here the new bottle has a sticker telling me the pill may look different from what I have been issued before but it is the same. So, the issue is not uncommon.
This is a first person example of how we pay so much more for our medicine than other countries. You’ve probably seen charts before like this one.
Some people argue that we are paying for the pharmaceutical companies to do their research. But recently some of those corporations have announced they will no longer do research for medications to help with AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and more.
Some people argue that we are paying higher prices to subsidize the rest of the world. Really? Not true. Other countries have negotiated prices with drug companies for their health insurance programs.
I believe we are charged what they think we will pay. Simple as that. And so, many people are either not taking the medications they need to be in good health or they are finding other ways to cope.
The problem is, many of us can not afford jacked up prices, like insulin that increased 197% from 2002 and 2013. Or how the cost of an epi pen went up from $100 in 2009 to $600 in 2016 (400%)and the CEO of that company is well known for his smirk. Thank goodness there are generic alternatives.
Bottom line: there is a lot wrong with our healthcare system and what we pay for it. Our premiums increase annually, our service plans decrease and the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are experiencing record profits.
Why is health care not considered a public service industry similar to water, sewage treatment, electric/gas/whatever you use for heating and cooking?
Until we fix our issues here in the United States, Mexico and Canada will continue to reap the benefits of attracting savvy medical shoppers.