In this story, we showed you it’s possible to save hundreds, even thousands a year by purchasing (in-person) your prescription medications in Canada. And it’s legal for you to bring them back to the U.S.
So, you’re probably wondering; Is this right for me, and how do I do this? Let’s walk you through this step-by-step, thanks to WZZM 13 sister station WGRZ --
HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED:
-Proper identification. It’s a must. You cannot get into Canada without either an enhanced Michigan driver’s license, or, a US passport, or, a Nexus pass.
If you have your ID, then we move on to the homework section.
WHAT'S YOUR RX COST?
Buying medications in Canada is going to make the most sense if you fall into one of these categories: (1) Have no health insurance, (2) Have a healthcare plan with high deductibles or (3) Have healthcare insurance with no/little prescription drug coverage.
Most people have some form of medical insurance. The key is your out-of-pocket cost to buy your medicines.
Often, that’s printed right on your insurance identification card. If you have a high-deductible plan, you’ll need to check with your insurer if Canadian prescription purchases will count toward that deductible amount.
If your prescription co-pay is $50 or higher, going across the border for medications may make sense.
MAKE A LIST:
Write down each medication, the amount (tablets, etc.) and the strength (usually in mg’s or ml’s, this is very important) and the amount each drug costs you (in co-pays).
You will need that list for the next step, so keep it handy.
SHOP BY PHONE:
Right across the Niagara River from Buffalo, there are eight pharmacies. Most are in Fort Erie and are just minutes away once you cross the Peace Bridge. These pharmacies are a mix of small mom-and-pop stores to the big chain varieties. We found, generally, they are fairly close on price.
An important fact you need to know. Not every drug available in the U.S. can be found in Canada. For example, you can find the anti-seizure medication Lamictal XR® (extended release) in America, but we only found Lamictal IR (immediate release) north of the border, at a lower strength.
-- Really Important: Substituting medications without consulting your doctor first is a very bad idea. Don’t do it. Always check with your doctor before purchasing any medications.
Now, what you’ll find when you’re pricing Canadian prescription drugs is that they’re generally much cheaper, up to 90% cheaper.
Here are some examples we found recently (January 2017):
-Some medications requiring a prescription in the U.S. are available over-the-counter in Canada. You can purchase both EpiPens® and insulin without a prescription in Canada. The savings can be huge.
EpiPens® go for about $100 in Canada. In the U.S., they’re typically around $300.
Insulin is also much, much cheaper. Through the website GoodRx.com, we found the full retail price of Humalog® at more than $500 for a five-pack of injector pens. The very same drug in Canada costs less than $60.
For all medications requiring a prescription, there’s an additional step:
SEE A CANADIAN DOCTOR:
To get prescription medications in Ontario, you need a prescription order filled out by a doctor licensed to practice in Ontario. With Canada’s universal healthcare system, appointments can take a while to get. But, there are practices and clinics where you can just walk-in and see a doctor.
Dr. Hugh Mitchell operates a walk-in clinic on Garrison Road in Fort Erie. It’s on a first-come, first-served basis. U.S. citizens are charged $75. (That’s in Canadian dollars. But in U.S. dollars, that’s a bit more than $56.)
Dr. Mitchell will do a medical assessment, ask questions and if you’re looking for prescription, he says he’ll need to see a prescription from a U.S. doctor (yes, you can still get an old-fashioned, hand-written prescription if you ask for one) , or a recently emptied prescription container, or, a letter from your doctor.
But, forget about seeking opiates or psychotropic drugs. Dr. Mitchell does not write prescriptions for those. No exceptions.
Another Canadian doctor-option is the Fort Erie Group Family Practice. The office is located at 238 Bertie Street (next door to the Niagara Health Systems hospital.) Call ahead first: 905-871-9861.The practice has specific doctors who will write prescriptions for Americans. They are not working every day. The charge to visiting US citizens is $40 (CAN), which is $30 in US funds.
The office manager at Fort Erie Group Family Practice says they will only write a Canadian prescription if the American patient has a U.S. prescription in-hand. Doctors at this practice will not write scripts for opiates and other addiction-prone medications.
What's the next step now that you have your Canadian prescription?
BUY YOUR CANADIAN PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS:
Again, you have eight drug stores to choose from in the Fort Erie area.
Tip: If you have a health savings account through work, check and see if you are permitted to use it in Canada. If you can, you’ll be using tax-free US dollars and maximizing your savings.
Extra Tip: Save receipts. You never know who may ask for them.
Extra-Extra Tip: Do yourself a huge favor. Leave your newly-bought Canadian medications in their original containers, because that will make it easier coming back over the border.
COMING BACK HOME:
When the agent from U.S. Customs and Border Security asks you, “Anything to declare?...Are you bringing anything back from Canada?”
You should reply: “Yes, I bought my medications.”
While wholesale importation (or, if you prefer, re-importation) of prescription drugs into the U.S. is not allowed, you are permitted to return with medications for “personal use”.
The Food and Drug Administration has the very same policy.
Now, we are told that bringing back more than a three-month supply of any medication will get you extra scrutiny when returning from Canada. So, by keeping the drugs in their original prescription containers, in a bag from the pharmacy, everything clearly labeled that they are for you, that's the best way to smoothly get through customs.
CANADIAN DRUG WEBSITES:
If you do an internet search on “Canadian drugs," you are certain to find offers for cheap prescription medication via a website. We don’t recommend these sites.
Counterfeit pharmaceuticals do exist. U.S. authorities make busts of these phony drugs all the time.
These websites seem to run counter to what Canadian authorities have told us. Again, we recommend you avoid them and shop in-person.
SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE:
If you make a run to Canada to purchase your medications, please tell us (and others) how it went. If our directions here need tweaking, we will do that.
We hope that this information is helpful, and if it saves your household money, then all the better.