As promised in an earlier post about over-the-counter medications in Portugal, this one covers prescription medications. How does the system work and what can you expect in terms of pricing? Let’s find out.
Jana here. Fortunately, I’m not on many medications so to ease the transition between the States and Portugal, I obtained a multi-month supply before I left Atlanta. Knowing that I was going to be buried in the efforts to set up our new home, this strategy bought me some time before I needed to meet with a doctor to have the proper prescriptions issued here. I’ve read that some expats have taken their meds into a pharmacy and been able to buy them without seeing a doctor, but I wanted to establish a relationship with a médico right up front. I chose to go to a private hospital rather than one of the public ones because the wait time would probably be less, and I have private insurance (a requirement to obtain our residence visas).
Once I’d presented my passport and insurance card at the check-in desk, my SNS (Serviço Nacional de Saúde -- essentially my national health number), and a copy of my appointment information, the paperwork was completed. The receptionist held onto my insurance card to be collected at the end of the appointment.
Like most Stateside doctor’s offices, there was a wait, about forty-five minutes. Once I was escorted to the doctor—a lovely lady whose English was quite good—we discussed my medical history in detail. Since I wasn’t sure I’d be talking to a doc who was comfortable in English, I wrote out the most important points of my medical history – allergies, surgeries, medications, etc.—and ran it through Google Translate. Though Google does a decent job, it’s not always spot on, but it did help the doctor understand my background since I didn’t need a check-up at this point. I also brought the actual medications with me for inspection.
Once she’d verified the Portuguese equivalent of the one med that needed a refill, she issued a prescription and I toted it off for the farmácia. As I expected, the medication was not in stock, for which the pharmacist apologized profusely. For me, it wasn’t a big deal as this happened when I shopped at RiteAid. I returned the next day and completed the purchase.
It’s at this point I need to do dazzle you with some math to give you an idea of the cost of meds in Portugal. I knew they were less. I did not expect them to be THAT much less.
Back in the U.S. a three-month supply of my medicine (generic brand) is $71.72 via my former insurance company’s mail order pharmacy. That’s $23.90/month, which I consider pretty reasonable.
A three-month supply of the same medication, but under a brand name, is $120.51 ($40.51 per month), again through mail order. This isn't the full cost of the med, I suspect, as the insurance company was underwriting some of the expense.
Now here’s where it gets interesting …
That same Brand Name medication is €8.88 here. At today’s exchange rate ($1.24 per euro) that’s $11.04 for ALL THREE MONTHS. Yes, that’s roughly $3.68 PER MONTH.
$3.68 vs. $40.51 for the identical Brand Name medication. For an American who is used to paying top dollar for meds, this was a very welcome surprise. It certainly will work well now that we’re on a fixed income.
One other plus, I was able to obtain six months of the med right up front, so that issue is sorted out until July when I return to the doc again to ensure all is going as planned. I'd sure like to see these prices implemented in the States.
Harold is a former software engineer. Jana is an author. Together they're exploring their new life in Portugal.