Sunday 25 February 2018

Charlie Weston: Cheap medicines from discount pharmacies are tonic for soaring prices

One option to cut the cost is to buy from a discount pharmacy. These usually have an annual subscription charge of €25 and offer you heavily discounted medicines, often delivered to your door (Stock picture)
One option to cut the cost is to buy from a discount pharmacy. These usually have an annual subscription charge of €25 and offer you heavily discounted medicines, often delivered to your door (Stock picture)
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Medicines are expensive in this country. We pay far more for them than countries like Spain or Portugal - and even more than they pay on the other end of the island, in Northern Ireland.

Yet few of us haggle. We emerge from the doctor's clinic ill and under pressure, and are not inclined to think about the price we are paying for a small number of pills.

Maybe the pharmacy is near the GP clinic, and you are under the weather. But that convenient pharmacy might just be the most expensive place to have a prescription filled.

We need to think more about shopping around for medicines, availing of discounts that may be offered to people who work in the same company, or avail of the great value offered by discount pharmacies.

If you have a medical card, the cost of filling a prescription is covered by the State, save for a charge of €2.50 for each item that is dispensed to you, up to a maximum of €25 per month, per person or family.

If you are not covered by a State scheme then you end up paying full whack. Some argue that private patients subsidise the costs of State schemes such as the medical card one and the drugs payment scheme.

I believe that pharmaceutical companies exploit the fact that Ireland is a small market. The wholesale cost of medicines here is high. This feeds into high prices in pharmacies for those paying for their own medicines.

One option to cut the cost is to buy from a discount pharmacy. These usually have an annual subscription charge of €25 and offer you heavily discounted medicines, often delivered to your door.

Two of these are Healthwave and Limitless Health. Healthwave has a website - myprescription.ie - which shows you if a generic exists and tells you how much it will cost. The business model of these operations is based on high sales volumes, which means big discounts for consumers.

Another discounter is Pure Pharmacy, which has six outlets across Dublin, Galway and Louth, and says it is discounting prescription medicines by up to 60pc for private patients - those who do not have a medical card. It does not require a subscription charge to be paid.

The pharmacy chain offers all cholesterol-reducing statins - one of the most widely prescribed medicines - at €4 for a month's supply. This compares with between €12 and €14 for a month's supply in most retail pharmacies, according to Pure Pharmacy's David Beggs.

The hope is that these pharmacy operations that heavily discount prescription medicines will put pressure on their traditional rivals to cut their prices.

Sunday Indo Business

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