The Bezzle

My first thought is that at no time in history has the bezzle been more ubiquitous than it currently is.

The next thought is less than comforting: At no time in the future will the bezzle be less widespread than it currently is. Have I proof? Maybe not, but I surely have anecdotal evidence.

Today I had occasion to deal with “healthcare insurance”. It was less than a pleasant, but certainly informative, experience. I do believe I am going to tell you about it here. (It’s my blog, you know; you don’t have to read it or anything, but I get to write it. That’s what I call perfect balance.)

Here’s the thing: I have taken a medication, propranolol, with the trade name Inderal, for about twenty years now. My old, now retired general practitioner, prescribed it for what he called a “benign familial intention tremor”. (I could explain what all of that means, but choose for now to forego the exercise.) In very point of fact the medication did have a good effect in that I could eat a great deal more soup than I spilled from the spoon upon the tabletop or upon my shirt.

Under the “healthcare insurance” of the day, propranolol 80mg LA cost about $25 per month, and that was not completely out of bounds, for it did help me not to spill my soup, or coffee, or something. (Just by the way, that was for two doses per day, and I’ve been taking one dose per day for at least 10 years now.)

Since August 31, 2017, I have had no “healthcare insurance” other than “Medicare Part A (Hospitalization)”. No dental, no vision, no pharmaceutical, no “major medical”. Therefore I wondered how it would go, should I have this prescription for propranolol filled. Three days ago I went looking online for something like a deal. (Remember, even with insurance the drug has cost me $45/month at times…) So I found this site (goodrx [dot] com), and they gave me “comparison prices” for WalMart (Wally World), Costco, CVS, Walgreen’s, Buy-Wise, and so on. Wally World’s “price” beat the rest by high percentages, so I printed the coupon, but didn’t try to use it. I printed the coupon on October 9.

Today, driving toward town to get lunch, I noticed that my driving, while not erratic per se, was lacking in something I’ll call confidence. I-565 does that to me sometimes, you see, for lots of people think of that little stretch of highway as the functional equivalent of the Talladega Speedway. (It’s likely more problematical that a whole lot of central North Alabama drivers consider themselves the functional, moral, and actual equivalents of Dale Earnhardt, say.)

Well, after lunch (which got my blood sugar level to a more reasonable level, I’m sure–Cheese’n’eggs, country ham, a little bit of hashbrowns at Waffle House–with the senior discount it’s pretty cheap, plus if you mention that it seems too cold in there they will bring down the A/C, and it’s fun to watch 3-4 workers actually do a good job). I went a few blocks East to my “standard Mom’n’Pop pharmacy”.

Been giving them business since 1997 or so, and I like them a lot, because while the store is bigger than a lot (it’s a “supermarket”, too), it also reminds me of some “neighborhood grocery stores” I had occasion to see when I was a young child. Well, I had my coupon, so I asked Stephanie if they accepted it. The answer was in the negative. She then disclosed that “they” used a discount card for people who lack “health insurance”. I told her to try that, and received the promise that she would call me to tell me the price.

A little while later I heard my name called. Stephanie was no longer “on the case”, but Sandra was, and she had the bottle, with its little label showing my name and prescription number and all of it, and the capsules inside. I told her I needed to know what the price was, as I no longer have “health insurance”. She said, “Well, it’s $59.90.” You might imagine my reply (but I hope you don’t). I explained, and she asked if I wanted the prescription transferred to Wally World. I said I would like to try that so long as I could demand it be transferred back in case that didn’t work out so well–see, some of us old guys do figure out a thing or two along the way.

Now this little market is about six blocks South of the barber shop/styling salon where I rather-less-than-often get my hair cut. But this barber shop/styling salon has a comfortable and shaded front porch with a padded swing, a hard wooden bench, and a sort-of-padded chair; it also has a couple of very clean bathrooms I can use when the occasion requires, as it often does. I like to go there and sit on the front porch, sometimes talking with people, or just watching the traffic in Dallas Mill Village on its way to Five Points, smoking a few, drinking some Diet Dr. Pepper, and “thinking my thoughts”. Today I stopped there and “my” chair was not occupied, so I took up residence therein.

I figured that, after 30 minutes or so, Wally World should have received my transferred prescription, and that it would take about 30 minutes to get there (because I had to stop at the credit union to deposit the huge $15.00 refund check I got from my auto insurer on account of an “over-payment” [like I’m not going to be paying them again next month!]) (Well, one digresses too often, possibly.)

About 1630 (I use military time here, and if you can’t figure out how to subtract 12 from 16 I can’t help you understand that means 4:30PM CDT today; it is what it is) I headed off on Stevens Ave, Dement St, McCullough Ave, Andrew Jackson Way, I-565, and US72 East toward Wally World after detouring onto Shields Rd and Winchester Rd. (No, you don’t need to know the route; I wanted to describe it. Okay?)

Got to WW about 1700 (remember–subtract 1200 and you get 5:00PM CDT). Two pharmacists and two assistants inside. ZERO customers. What luck! But the pharmacists were heatedly discussing their boyfriends, and, since I was anticipating an already transferred and filled prescription, I went to the “Pick Up” window. Ten minutes later one of the pharmacists got bored enough (or something) with the horribly detailed discussion and noticed me. (Of course her leviathan-class weight caused her to take two minutes to travel the maybe 8 meters between her desk and my location; this is Wally World, right?)

I showed her my ID (concealed carry permit, don’t you know?) and explained the thing in what I think was a fairly lucid manner. She said, “I’ll look around.” (This is not a particularly good sign, I think.) “Nope, we don’t have it. Let me ask the assistant over there at ‘Drop Off’.” YES! Ms. Assistant has “just finished” receiving the transfer–I don’t know how to parse that, but I don’t care that much. So now I have to go over to “Drop Off” and give my “information”. Okay. That’s how “these things are done” in a perfectly and horribly screwed-up world such as we have in the United States of America these days.

Ms. Assistant doesn’t recognize a concealed carry permit as legal identification…it’s good enough for any policeman, deputy sheriff, fireman, or anyone else, but not good enough at Wally World!!! Amazing! So I produced my driver license (which, of course, contains precisely and exactly the same information about me), and gosh-a-mighty she can accept that! Okay, we’re on our way now, I guess!

So, after I’m all checked in to “the SYSTEM”, I get to explain that I want the prescription filled, but I want to know how much it’s going to cost (because, you know, I still remember that October 9 price of $12.50 and all of that). “Sure,” she chips out (though no one carrying her weight out to chip out much more than “MORE POPCORN, with LOTS of BUTTER!!!!”). I got out of her face to let her and the other troops do what they could.

Well, by gosh and by golly, they had to wait until they had transmitted all of the information to goodrx (dot) com, and until they had received an answer, to give me a price. During that 20 minutes of hellish fascination I looked around at “product” in the immediate area of the pharmacy. Hmmm, they didn’t have my brand of Opti-Free artificial tears, but they did have the Opti-Free disinfectant/rinse. To be fair, the “Equate” brand was less expensive, but I’m not sure I trust their formulations, you see.

Then I saw a section with the sign “Diabetic Supplies”, and found there so many (I’m certain) essential products. You know the kind of thing, I’m sure: Sugar Free cookies! Of course there is so much of “sugar alcohols” (mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc.) in those things that a Type I diabetic who consumes them is BEGGING for an insulin coma, and a Type II is looking for someone to stick him/her with the emergency stabber! Then there is the “raw shelled hemp seed” which shows ZERO dietary fiber and 3 grams of sugar per serving containing 3 grams of carbohydrate! (That would be only two examples, by the way.)

On the other side of that display were all the “protein supplements”. Most were nothing more than sugar supplements. Oh, well, it provided an interesting if horrifying survey of the situation in Wally World.

During the aforementioned survey there was an encounter between a customer and a “pharmacy assistant”; as the verbiage exchanged was not particularly suited to a family-oriented blog and certainly was NSFW, I won’t describe much of it other than to mention that the “customer” finally left, apparently assuaged. When she came to the corner to the store’s exit she encountered a woman holding a toddler’s hand in each of her somewhat amazingly obese hands, and the “customer” shrieked (much in the way I can imagine ancient Greece’s Harpies did), “What beautiful and sweet kids they are!” (Both “kids” being much more akin to “fattened calves” of more ancient times.)

Finally, about 40 minutes in, the assistant calls me over to explain that the price will be $25.60. By that time I’m defeated and know it, so I tell her to fill it and let me get out of there. I wonder (and will ever do so) why it took another 10 minutes for one pharmacist to package 30 capsules into a wonderfully-made and amazing container, but I’m mighty awful glad the price didn’t increase another 50% during that ten minutes.

I will, in fairness, say that the assistant kindly pointed out the way to the mens’ room, as I might by that time have had to employ extraordinary, extreme, and possibly illegal measures to relieve my bladder after all of that.

First question for anyone reading:

Why does a medication cost anything other than a posted, well publicized, easily known price at EVERY PHARMACY in the United States? Isn’t anything other than THAT, as a STANDARD, the VERY DEFINITION of DIFFERENTIAL PRICING? How is differential pricing anything OTHER than price fixing?

And: How does that not violate the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and the Robinson-Patman Act, collectively called 15 USC 1?

You’re buying it? I’m not. I’m pissed off, and you dam’ better be, too.

Peace. Blessings.

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