Shopping for Antibiotics

As I mentioned in a previous post, the problem with our medical system is that so many people are insured, they have no idea what the real cost of their medical care is. Over a month ago I came down with a bad cough, which my doctor diagnosed as bronchiolitis. She gave me a prescription for antibiotics, and I confess I actually did consider buying them. Even if I didn’t take them, it’s handy to have some antibiotics around for when you need them and don’t want to have to go to the doctor.

But I quickly changed my mind when I saw the cost. The antibiotic she’d prescribed was Zithromax. It was only a few of them: I think 12 or so, but on drugstore.com, which tends to be considerably cheaper than brick-and-mortar pharmacies, it cost almost $18 per pill. Per single pill! The generic equivalent wasn’t much better at $15 per pill. I figured I’d let the immune system take care of the problem.

Unfortunately, my immune system is horribly wimpy. The cough lingered, and lingered, and even got worse. I’d been taking over-the-counter cough suppressants so long I’d far exceeded their maximum time, and I had even built up a tolerance to them. When I went cold turkey on my Nyquil, I discovered bronchiolitis had turned into whooping cough. (Turns out you need booster shots if you want those childhood vaccinations to hold up.)

So it was really time to buckle down and buy some antibiotics. However, in the meantime, I’d thrown away my Zithromax prescription. I called my doctor and explained the situation to her nurse. The nurse seemed surprised I was having to pay for my own drugs. “Your insurance doesn’t pay for even part of the drugs?” she asked. Well, no. The kind of insurance that would cover prescription drugs would cost me $300 a month, and even with a feeble immune system, I don’t need that much drugs. In any case, she took pity on me and promised the doctor would give me a prescription for a cheaper antibiotic, if appropriate.

The next day I picked up my new prescription and found out it was for another antibiotic called Amoxicillin. I couldn’t wait for drugstore.com’s turnaround time, and in the meantime Peter had told me about Wal-Mart’s $4 prescriptions. To my great delight, my Amoxicillin prescription was on the list. I felt like I’d won the cheap drug lottery! This was better than comprehensive health insurance.

And the Wal-Mart pharmacy, even at the painful Wal-Mart near us, was pleasant. Fifteen minutes later I had my antibiotics. And today, only a day in, I’m breathing better.

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