Two words for boomers seeking meds: Shop around!

If you’ve made the effort to understand the best medical plans for your circumstances, you’ve probably walked away in a daze, because the offerings of different plans, especially when it comes to Medicare, is a massive confusing maze. And this is notwithstanding whatever impact politics is having on health care. That’s why BoomerCafé’s co-founder and publisher David Henderson has written about his own observations, based on his own needs. And he has come up with a lesson for us all: shop around.

Let me begin by stating clearly that I’m not a medical professional. So what I share here are just my own experiences, my own observations, my own opinions. But almost every baby boomer these days either is on Medicare or faces Medicare, so I hope these opinions are worth reading.

The first one is, we are in an era when it’s sometimes to our advantage to shop around for prescription medicines and be open to exploring new possibilities. This is especially true at this time of year during Medicare’s open enrollment period. Medicare medical and prescription plans change from year-to-year, which is why it’s helpful to check out what’s new. What I keep learning about prescription plans only underscores how pharmaceutical companies have a lock on our business in the United States, meaning what’s costly here might be far cheaper elsewhere.

Example #1 – Getting pain relief for common aches and stiffness.

Too many pills and capsules taken internally give me adverse side effects while hardly touching their target, which for me is arthritic knee pain. Once while traveling abroad, a pharmacist in Israel suggested an over-the-counter spray gel called Diclofenac Sodium 4%. Cost was equivalent to $6. Two quick sprays on my knee and back … and presto, no more pain! I was pain-free for about six hours.

Like a magic potion — diclofenac sodium 4% spray gel sold under the name Voltaren and made in Germany.

When I returned home, I found that Diclofenac Sodium – a drug to kill pain that dates back to World War One – is indeed available in the U.S. under the brand name “Voltaren.” But it’s different, it’s weaker. While the inexpensive over-the-counter spray gel in Israel came in a 4% formula, Voltaren in the U.S. requires a prescription, sells for more than $30, and is about as effective as rubbing alcohol. What’s more, it’s only 1%, not 4%.

So now, when I travel abroad, I stock up. And, my doctors say the topical treatment is safer than pills.

Example #2 — Medicare Rx insurance is not always cheapest.

Just because I signed up for a Medicare prescription drug plan does not guarantee the best deal. I’ve found I need to shop around before filling any prescription.  And, sometimes, getting a prescription from my doctor filled “out of my pocket” or ignoring my insurance plan is actually cheaper, sometimes considerably less money.  Gotta shop around …

Example #3 – Check first.

My doctor prescribed Iodosorb for a cut that was slow to heal. He phoned in a prescription to Walgreens. But Walgreens wanted $164 for a small tube of Iodosorb. Out of curiosity, I checked where the same thing is available for as low as $16. No prescription needed for the same medicine!

As a personal caveat … I have found Walgreens to be more costly among our local pharmacies.

A historic apotheke or pharmacy still open and bustling in the Bavarian town of Garmisch.

I came of age during a time when pharmaceutical companies in the United States constantly wiggled a finger of caution about buying any drug made outside America. Well, we know that’s not such good advice because many quality prescription drugs are made everywhere from Croatia to India to Bulgaria even though marketed under a so-called “U.S.” brand.

My preferred pain relief medicine — Diclofenac Sodium 4% — is made in Germany.

That reminds me … might be a nice time to visit Munich again.

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