Free Drugs

“That’ll be eight hundred fifty-three dollars and 68 cents.”

The man next to me blanched, staring in disbelief at the girl behind the counter. I would never have believed that prescription drugs could be so expensive. I wondered if it was the first time he’d filled that particular prescription, or if it would be the last.

Everyone knows about the health care debates in the US and how those without medical insurance suffer at the cost. And, I think it’s safe to say that everyone knows about Obama’s well-intended efforts to bring reform to that industry. But, I wonder how many have ever considered just how expensive it is to pay retail prices at the pharmacy?

I certainly hadn’t; we’ve always been shielded from the cost by our health insurance. Latterly, in the US, with our co-pay, prescriptions were only $10.

In Scotland it is even less.

The National Health Service is Scotland’s biggest employer with one third of the nation’s work force employed in some capacity. The NHS covers everything; health care costs me nothing. Of course I pay the taxman dearly for it, but for doctor’s visits, hospital, X-ray, physiotherapy, podiatry, etc. I pay nothing. It’s incredible.

The first time we needed a prescription I was asked, “Do you pay for your prescriptions?”

“I don’t know, do I?”

The lady kindly showed me a list of those who don’t pay: children under 16, pensioners, veterans, etc.

“No, I don’t think I fit into any of those categories.”

“Well, in that case it’ll be £4.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, that’s what you owe.”

I gladly paid it.

However, I was at the pharmacy again yesterday, picking up a script; with drugs in hand I asked the same question, “How much do I owe you for this?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? I usually pay for my scripts.”

“No one pays anymore, not since April 1.”

“Nobody pays for drugs?”

“Nobody,” she smiled.

That no doubt makes the bookkeeping simple at the pharmacy, but I wondered, as legislators are even now looking to make draconian cuts in the NHS budget, how we as a nation could afford to give away free drugs, especially when some of them may well cost $853.68 or more to fill.

I would have happily paid my £4 and thankfully have the resources to do so. I suppose there are others who don’t and for them, free drugs are a real boon. Perhaps their health will contribute to the economy in ways far more significant than my £4.

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