Revisiting: Held Hostage By Insurance for Medications

A few weeks ago I spent several consecutive days on the telephone with our health insurance company to try and get a six month supply of David’s new heart medications.  It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life!  No wonder people give up and either cruise for a short time or don’t leave the immediate area so they can always gets their medications!   Most people that aren’t cruisers don’t understand that FedEx doesn’t deliver in 3rd world countries and there are very few Walgreens & CVS’s floating around on the deep blue sea!

The Issue:  Caremark (CVS) and our health insurance’s pharmacutical partner allows us to get a 90 day supply of medications via mail order.  This posed a problem if we were to continue (or resume) our normal six months out of the country cruising routine.  When we first talked to the cardiologist and Caremark we were assured that it would be no problem to get a vacation override to allow us to have six months of medication on hand.  But when we got ready to leave and called to get the override as we were instructed, it turned into a fiasco!

Discover Card Must Have Loaned Peggy to the Insurance Industry!

Discover Card Must Have Loaned Peggy to the Insurance Industry!

Remember “Peggy” on the customer service television commercial?   I’m pretty sure “Peggy” must work for more than just a credit card company because I talked to “her” several times during this fiasco!

For three solid days, every time I called the same 800 number, I was given a different set of instructions, starting with just calling it in as a vacation override to a different 800 number, then asking the cardiologist to fax another set of prescriptions to our local pharmacy (we usually get the prescriptions mail order), to downloading a special vacation override form on their website (that I never would have found except for the insurance representative on the phone walking me through it). And each time I went through the schenanagins to follow the instructions to the letter, when I got to the final step, someone said “Nope, you can’t do that — THIS is what you should have done”.  HELLOOOO  Peggy!!   Where is Lou Holtz when you need him?  — “OK, let’s start from the top”.

FINALLY, after three days and almost needing meds for depression myself, I asked for yet another supervisor.  This time, Jill got on the phone, listened to my tale of woe once again and said “OK”, no problem.  I’ve just authorized the 90 day early prescription and you’ll have it next week AND the local prescription faxed to WalMart will be ready to pick up this afternoon”.  WHAT????   Just like THAT?   After three days of hell? So why couldn’t the first supervisor I talked to three days ago done the same?

BUT, just as Jill promised, we picked up the local prescriptions at WalMart that afternoon and we had the next 90 day supply by the following Wednesday, a week later.  After having removed that obstacle, now we just need to LEAVE!   🙂

As I was doing my research for this fiasco, I discovered we’re not the only cruisers that fight this battle constantly.  Other options that cruisers have used successfully include:

1.  Ask your doctor to prescribe the medication twice a day rather than once and get a 90 day supply which effectively gives you 180 days – or voila, a six month supply.

2.  Ask your doctor to prescribe double the dose size pills for 90 days and cut them in half – doesn’t work with all medications.

3.  Buy the medications locally wherever you are.  Generally medications are MUCH less expensive in other countries and our experience is that they’re usually available.  I’ve been able to walk in and buy Cipro (a broad spectrum antibiotic) in most countries we’ve visited so far.  I’m not sure how this would work with Plavix and Lipitor, but we’ll find out!  We’ll ask when we’re in the Bahamas.

5.  Some cruisers find it easier to just get a cheap flight back to the U.S. and pick up the medications they need — along with a a gazillion spare parts, I’m sure.  Depending on the cost and availability of buying them locally, this might be a cost effective option.

6. Ask a visiting friend to bring the medications in their luggage.  This generally works OK depending on if you’re stopped for customs – customs officials don’t necessarily like to see prescription medications not in the traveler’s passport name.  But we’ve not had a problem with the medications actually being confiscated – your mileage may vary — this depends entirely on the individual customs agent looking over your stuff!

Oh, and today we hear from USA Today that taking statins (i.e. Lipitor) long term may cause diabetes – the study was for older women, but you never know.  You just can’t win!  It’s worth eating healthy and exercising to stay healthy, my friends!

Do you have other alternatives to managing medications while cruising?  Please leave a comment and share the information!  Cheers!  Jan

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