Rx Bandits

This is perhaps (or definitely) a bit off topic from what I had planned to write here – mostly music, hence the cheeky title of this post – but something happened yesterday that I felt was important to write about.

I apparently have a small wart on the bottom of my foot. It’s not a big deal (I swear), and it’s not what this post is about.

This post is about what happened when I went to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription my doctor ordered for me.

“Oooh,” said the pharmacist, with a grimace on her face. “That’ll be thirteen fifty.”

“Like, thirteen dollars?” I asked.

“Thirteen hundred,” she replied.


I turned to her manager next to her.

“I know,” the manager said. “But believe me, I’ve seen worse.”


What makes this even more insane is a) this is a generic prescription and b) I have a great job with good health insurance. I happen to have what’s called a high-deductible plan – which means I pay out of pocket for everything, including the full cost of prescriptions – until I hit my (very high) deductible for the year. I know this and deliberately chose this plan, so I take responsibility for that. But that’s not really the point.

I did some research on this cream, and it seems like it’s normally used to treat precancerous growths; some podiatrists (like mine, apparently) use it to treat foot warts.

I’ve been trying (and mostly failing) to force myself to watch the (excruciating) presidential debates, but one point that has hit home so hard is one that Bernie Sanders has articulated repeatedly: the pharmaceutical industry is ripping us off. Hard.

I don’t pretend to understand the economics of insurance or healthcare, and maybe I wouldn’t write this post if I did. I know at some level that prescription drug costs must pay for the extensive R&D and procedural red-tape that gets a drug to market in the first place.

Regardless, who exactly is supposed to pay $1300 to get rid of a foot wart? Even if I had different insurance plan that made this cheaper for me as a consumer, why on earth should my insurance company shell out upwards of $1000 for something that surely cannot cost more than 10% of that to make? Can we as an economy and a country not do better?

I shared this post on Facebook and got a great comment from one of my friends in the UK:

“The NHS [National Health Service] is a wonderful, wonderful thing and it makes me sad that the US seems against any system like it. Socialism in medicine works in my eyes if it means I never have to pay more than £7.20 for any prescription no matter what it is.”

His comment reminded me of when I studied abroad at Oxford in fall 2008 during the Obama/McCain election. I attended a debate at the Oxford Union, where Bill Clinton belonged back in his days as a Rhodes Scholar. The topic was the American elections, and they of course had a pro-Obama and pro-McCain side, though the pro-Obama side predictably had much more support among those who attended.

The main thing I remember from that debate was how both sides agreed – without any argument whatsoever – that they were so very lucky that the generation before them did the hard thing and crafted, passed, and implemented England’s socialized medicine system.

Not only that, but they pitied the poor Americans who couldn’t seem to step up to the plate to accomplish something similar for themselves. That both sides of the political spectrum seemed to agree that a long-enacted government program had benefited them so immensely struck me as, sadly, incredibly unfamiliar – when was the last time both parties agreed in that manner about a large-scale policy in the US? Social security? And if other countries are so pleased with how their medical programs are going, why oh why do we insist on being so afraid of similar reforms in our own country?


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