If you’re not familiar, Austin is not well-enough-known as the allergen capitol of Texas. People talk about Cedar Fever, when cedar trees shake one out and everyone’s faces spontaneously explode. That part is well known. But when you’re me, everything triggers your allergies. To save my ass, I’m on two inhalers, some epic nasal spray, far too much ephedrine, and a placebo called Zyrtec. That keeps me breathing, but when my Pollen.com alert says “Hold your butts, Juniper and Cedar are here to destroy all y’all!” I know I’m in for a new kind of pain.
Now, people say “get some eye drops” and after years of juniper allergies in Seattle, I know only one eye drop is worth the effort: olopatadine ophthalmic.
Some of the folks in the back just cringed. If your wallet didn’t just hurt, let me explain. When I first got a prescription, there was no generic, but I had good insurance. It cost me $40 for a bottle so small I quite literally keep it in the box it came in—so I don’t lose it. I was excited last year to learn the patent was up and anyone could start making it—price drop, right?—and my new prescription rang in at… $35.
Let’s do some math. $351 for 5ml. So $70 for 10ml, and thus $7000 for one liter. Or $26,495 per gallon. Or roughly the cost of Chanel No 5, for insurance-adjusted prescription eye drops.
And it gets better. I mentioned olopatadine to my pulmonary doctor 2 and she said “Oh, man, that stuff is expensive! My daughter uses it and on our insurance it’s $100.” I’ll let you update the math yourself.
So fast forward a month or so. After being shocked at a sudden $50 change for my crazy nasal spray, I went to update my coupon. And by coupon, I mean those little blips you hear at the end of pharmaceutical ads saying “can’t afford Bidrononexylvide? BigPharmaCo can help!” What that translates into is basically a year long loyalty card membership, like Prime for one very specific product, but it’s free. Why do they do this? No idea, but I’m sure it involves some sort of write-off or “charitable giving.”
Anyhoo, that gave me an idea: if my expensive nasal spray and my expensive inhaler have a coupon that take the price down to $10-15 a pop, surely this godawfully priced eye drop does as well! After some quick googling (literally “olopatadine coupon“, try it) I found a coupon promising “up to 75% off” and good at all stores! Unlike the loyalty card coupons, though, this was just out there, ready to print, and with almost no context. But, what did I have to lose? It’s not like I was doing anything but asking my pharmacist if the coupon was legit.
My eye drops ran out yesterday and I went in for a re-up, clutching my lark of a coupon. It was after work and the pharmacy was hopping. An overworked teller squinted at my coupon, then got the pharmacist. She took the coupon in back and I proceeded to block a register for another 30 minutes. I tried to wave her off, saying “it’s okay if it doesn’t work… probably some online scam” but she kept at it.
After ages, she came back with a weary look and said “You probably don’t want to use this coupon.”
She showed me the “savings”… my $35 bottle would now cost $299.
The upshot was that the coupon was for people who had no insurance at all (which is currently punishable by fine) and that $299 was at least 25% of the actual list price.
Pause again to do the math on $299 for 5ml, then imagine if $299 was 75% off the real price… I’m not doing that math, but a gallon is getting near the price of scorpion venom faster than you’d imagine.
Do you know how much olopatadine cost when I was on Medicaid for a few months?
We need universal health care.