Monday, March 28, 2011

why mail order pharmacies can be dangerous and what you can do about it

5 days of "being able to play nice with others" left...

I sure do hope that refill comes soon, and I'm sure so do my co-workers and others that have to interact with me on a daily basis.  That's the problem with Aetna's mail order pharmacy, I'm never sure if my drugs will arrive in 3 days or not at all until I call up and complain. When an inhaler or birth control or something else important like the above pictured generic happy pills do NOT arrive and you call them and reach a call center in New Delhi, you often get some strange excuse, after being kept on hold for several minutes, like they switched suppliers and something is backordered.  This would be inconvenient enough were you warned of it,  but when you don't get an email or a call to let you know there will be a delay it really is maddening. It can be dangerous as well, depending on the medication.

While many Americans have employer-sponsored plans that mandate that they buy their drugs from mail order pharmacies, my problem is my health plan makes it too costly for me to buy my prescriptions at my local pharmacy, where I can call and get a live person who knows me and my profile.  At Falls Pharmacy, which is a stone's throw down the hill and is owned and operated by two of my neighbors,  I can pick up my drugs when I need them with virtually no waiting.  If I order from Aetna, my medications can sit in my hot or cold mailbox, depending on the time of year, because I never know which day they are going to arrive and I do have to occasionally go to work.  They can also get stolen off my porch, like my debit card and my IRS refund check did this year.

Despite these problems, Aetna waives one month's co-pay if I buy a three month supply, so I end up paying a third less if I use the mail order service.  It's hard to pass that benefit savings up; especially if you have multiple medications.  

Here is a very good article by Jeff Gelles printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer business section last October about the current debate about mail order houses versus bricks-and-mortar pharmacies, which paints a pretty good picture of both sides of the debate.  There are currently 2 pieces of legislation under debate, House Bill 511 and PA Senate Bill 201, which aim to give Pennsylvania pharmacies the same right to offer multi-month discounts to consumers like me so I can choose which service to use based on other important factors besides price; like my desire to have a relationship with a health care professional when questions arise concerning my medications.  Or my desire not to go through the hassle of tracking missing orders.

This website has more information regarding the current national debate about mandatory mail order medicine and other issues regarding mail order pharmacies.  There are links so you can take action and contact your legislators regarding your feelings about this.   More here.

As for me, I just switched our entire company over from Aetna to Keystone because I was sick of the service  I was getting with Aetna.  It's nice to be the Company Administrator I guess; but not everyone can vote with their feet as easily as I did.   In the meantime, I'm crossing my fingers that my dopamine enhancer will be in my mailbox when I get home today.  Wish me luck.

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