Low-cost Medications Are a Bonus for Caregivers in Peru

A customer buys medications in Nortfarma, a Peruvian pharmacy; prices are fixed by a national ministry, and stores that overcharge are fined. (photo: Andina)

In other posts, I’ve written about how affordable home-health aides are in Lima, a benefit that greatly helped our family when caring for my American father in Peru.

Today I want to share another bonus of caregiving in Lima: how medications are sold and dispensed. The Latin American system is so different than the for-profit model used in the United States, it’s shocking–and I mean that in a good way.

Basically, consumers at a Peruvian pharmacy can get almost any medication they want for about 70% less than what it would cost in the United States–without a doctor’s prescription. This savings applies only drugs that are no longer under patent and which are currently manufactured by several companies or as generics. New medications under patent are still full price.

For instance, the memory drug Excelon was still under patent when my father was taking it in 2011, so we had to pay full price (more than US$100 a month) for it in Lima. However, the eight other medications he took daily (Omeprazol, Sertraline, etc.) were available in generic form, and we ended up spending about US$80 a month for all of them together.

The savings were considerable, so we didn’t need his US insurance to cover drug costs. (His prescription plan  didn’t work down in Peru anyway).

I know that some readers are still stuck on that phrase in the third paragraph–“without a doctor’s prescription.”

Yes, that’s right. With the exception of certain drugs (see below), medications are freely dispensed in pharmacies sin receta (without a prescription), and overall, this works to the consumer’s favor in Peru, apart from the hazards of self-medicating. People do go to doctors and get prescriptions, but they aren’t necessary for initial purchase. And this system makes it much easier when you are a caregiver to an elderly person and you have to keep up with lots of refills.

Here is how the ordering process works:

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How We Got My Father Excellent Alzheimer’s Care for Less Than $1,400 a Month

If you’re reading this, you may be facing the terrifying predicament my husband and I found ourselves in in 2011: My elderly father had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and we had very little money to cover the gap between his monthly pension and what he would need for long-term care. To put it bluntly, we were scared out of our wits.

So we came up with an unorthodox solution: We moved my father from northern Florida to Lima, Peru, and cared for him there. Yes, Peru, South America.

He lived in Peru’s historic capital for sixteen months, until his death in July 2012, and he got excellent, personalized care that far surpassed anything he could have gotten in the United States.

In other posts, I’ll get into how and why we chose Lima (we were living there at the time). What most people want to know first are the numbers, so here they are.Continue Reading

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