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ICTP asks media to report about widespread fraud by major U.S. pharmacies and foreign tourists being the victims

ICTP asks media to report about widespread fraud by major U.S. pharmacies and foreign tourists being the victims ( eTN Publisher and chairman of the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) published this investigative article yesterday on eTurboNews.

In the interest of fair tourism and to assist in the growth of the travel and tourism industry to the United States, ICTP and eTN is waving copyrights for this article.

All we ask it to include the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) and as a source and we encourage media to report about the issue explained in the following article.

International visitors from the European Union, Singapore, China, Korea, South Africa, and from all corners of the world, make the United States their favorite holiday destination or will visit the United States of America at least once in their lifetime.

Tourists visiting the USA should be aware of a widespread fraudulent activity involving the biggest pharmacy companies in the country, including CVS Pharmacy also known as Longs Drugs.

Taking advantage of customers without insurance from foreign countries may explain how pharmacy giants like Longs Drugs can build their state of the art stores in prime real estate locations in the center in Hollywood, South Beach, and Waikiki.

Here is a case worth reading. We don’t expect you to find any logical explanation for this, but let this be a warning when visiting the “Land of the Free” and make sure you buy health insurance before heading to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New Orleans, or Honolulu.

Last month, a German visitor from Duesseldorf by the name of Klaus was vacationing in America and forgot to bring his Lipitor cholesterol medication with him. He left Germany for an extended trip in which he intended to discover the United States during his 2-month vacation.

Klaus went to a health clinic in Waikiki, the center of travel and tourism on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and received a prescription for a 3-month supply of Atorvastatin STATA 20 mg. This medication is the generic and cheaper alternative to the Lipitor brand. He was charged $149.00 for the brief doctor consultation and received the necessary prescription.

He walked across the street to a brand- new Longs Drugs store in Waikiki and presented his prescription. It was filled within 10 minutes, and he paid $414.99 plus tax for his 90-day supply.

In Germany, the same medication and a 100-day supply sells at every pharmacy for 15.00 euro (US$ 16.30).

eTN talked to the owner and pharmacist in Cologne, Germany. His pharmacy buys a 100 day supply of Atorvastatin STADA 20mg medication for about 5 EURO or $5.75 and sells it for EURO 15.00.

eTN talked to Hawaii based health insurance HMSA. The insurance confirmed stated: Most health plan would ask for a $11.00 copayment by the insurance holder for a 90-day supply of this medication. HMSA is contributing another $6.11 to a pharmacy like Longs Drugs, making the total price Long's would receive $17.11 for this 90-day supply. This number seems to be in line with the price of this medicine in Germany.

eTN contacted Longs Drug stores all over the country. It appears the nationwide CVS Pharmacy chain charges $414.99 at all their stores, from Los Angeles to Florida. Only the tax rate was different in each State.

When eTN contacted Longs Drugs media relations and asked why they would add an additional mark up of almost $400.00 for a visitor or someone without insurance buying this life-saving medication, eTN received this response from CVS pharmacy spokesperson Michael J.DeAngelis:

“Approximately 98% of our retail pharmacy business is covered by third-party prescription insurance in which customers pay only a co-pay - not the full price - for their prescriptions. Through Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage and health insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, the percentage of U.S. customers paying full retail price for their prescription medication continues to decline.

Regulations and pharmacy business models vary greatly between the U.S. and Europe, so it is not possible to draw an accurate comparison between the prices charged by pharmacies in the U.S. and what is charged by pharmacies in European countries."

In other words, Longs pharmacy has about 2% of customers they can overcharge by 2500% which adds up to a substantial amount of money.

Considering Longs has multiple pharmacies in almost every major or even not so major city in the United States, 2% overall may easily convert into 50% or more for a prime pharmacy location in Waikiki or on Times Square.

eTN went a step further and called more major pharmacies on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Here are some quoted sample cash rates for the same supply and for exactly the same Atovastatin medication, doses and quantity.

Straub Clinic Pharmacy $533.00
Don Quijoti Pharmacy $524.63
Waikiki Health Pharmacy $455.00
Walgreens Pharmacy $416.89
Longs CVS Pharmacy $ 414.99
Safeway Pharmacy: $239.97
Wallmart Pharmacy:$90.00
Costco Pharmacy: $35.00
Sam’s Club Pharmacy: $30.00

Long’s proudly commented on these numbers: “It appears our price is in the mid-range of other local pharmacies. Not the highest, not the lowest. Our previous statement is our comment for your article."

None of the pharmacies listed offered the eTN reporter a discount when calling in as a “German tourist.” Only when asked some offered this almost unbelievable turn around. Here are some of the discount that popped up for just asking a simple question.

Straub Clinic has a free discount card that brings the rate down from $565.00 to $14.99.
Don Quijoto has a $9.99 discount card that brings the price down to $10.99.
Walgreens has a $20.00 discount card that brings the price down to $183.97.
No discount plan was available at Longs, Waikiki Health, Safeway, Costco, or Sam’s Club.

eTN reached out to the Better Business Bureau, the State of Hawaii Health Department, Consumer Protection, Attorney General, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority. No one including the Pharmacy Board is interested in doing anything to avoid such fraud.

The Hawaii Governors office took all the information and is investigating.

Here is a quote that sums it up:

A pharmacist at the Straub Pharmacy in Honolulu responded to eTN’s question of why they would not offer the discount without someone asking.

His response: “We try this sometimes, but many tourists don’t have the time to fill out the paperwork for our discount card and just pay the $553.00 instead of $14.99. They are, after all, on vacation and time is valuable.”

When eTN asked how long it takes to process this paperwork, the answer was: “About 20 minutes."

When eTN reached out to Dr, Keith Stephenson of the Urgent Care Clinic in Waikiki, where most patients are tourists, Dr. Stephensen said he explains to his patients about how to shop around for the best rate and has warned customers to avoid Longs Drugs altogether.

He said he was previously a physician in Kapolei on Oahu and had experienced this widespread extortion when he was trying to help people without insurance to buy their medication.

After all Hawaii has a law not to overcharge for drinking water during a tsunami warning - what makes this different?

The answer remains outstanding.

Juergen T Steinmetz Email: Telefon: 1-808-536-1100

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