Doctor Dang's Insider Tips on Buying Anti-Malaria Pills

by Drdang on October 11, 2010

Doctor Dang's Insider Tips on Buying Anti-Malaria Pills
Cost Comparison: Anti-malaria Drugs for Two Weeks of Travel

Drug costs vary widely depending on where you buy them, and most insurance companies do not cover the cost of anti-malaria drugs. So be consumer savvy. Shop around and cost compare. The table below shows cost differences at several pharmacies for two weeks of travel to a malaria endemic area. Depending on where you buy anti-malaria drugs, the cost difference can be threefold. 

1 Price quotes from store front pharmacies located in a metropolitan city in the southwest United States. Prices are rounded to the nearest dollar. They were checked on August 21, 2010 and may not reflect current prices. Costco prices listed are nonmember prices; member prices are slightly cheaper.
2 Price quotes for generic drug.
3 Off label use (not FDA approved) for primary prophylaxis; CDC states primaquine is a good choice in non G6PD deficient travelers to areas where the predominant (>90%) malaria species is Plasmodium vivax.

The right anti-malaria drug for you depends on your travel destination, time until departure and personal medical condition(s). Talk to your travel specialist to determine the best anti-malaria drug for you and then do your homework to find the best bargain. Here are six tips for saving money.

1. Buy generic drugs when possible

Generic drugs become available after the pharmaceutical companies’ patents expire. They contain the same active ingredient(s) as the brand drugs and meet the same Food and Drug Administration (FDA) criteria for therapeutic efficacy and safety.
Generics are tried and true drugs that cost less than brand name drugs and work just the same. Why pay $119.59 for 8 − 250mg tablets of brand name Lariam when you can get generic mefloquine hydrochloride for $91.99 (price quoted on August 29, 2010, from a store front Walgreens pharmacy located in the southwest United States)? Check out the Consumer Reports Shoppers Guide to Prescription Drugs Series for more information about generic drugs. All the anti-malaria drugs listed in the table above come in a generic form except atovaquone-proquanil (Malarone).

2. Compare drug prices

Call local pharmacies and ask for a price quote. Store front price quotes can be cheaper than prices listed on the store website so call around. Several $4 generic drug programs include the anti-malaria drug doxycycline. Check out Medtipster for participating pharmacies near you. You can also search “$4 drug” online to get a list of available generic drugs. 
Check prices at online pharmacies. Only use sites with a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site  (VIPPS) seal. The seal means the site is legitimate and approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Buying drugs online is simple - just fax your prescription or ask your doctor to email in your prescription.

3. If you have insurance, speak with your pharmacy benefits manager

Your pharmacy benefits manager is an excellent source of information. He or she can tell you about special arrangements your insurance may have with certain pharmacies and help you navigate online tools to purchase anti-malaria drugs for the lowest price possible.

4. Consider using tax-advantaged health accounts

You can contribute money for health care expenditure to tax-advantaged accounts such as flexible spending arrangements and health savings accounts. Signing up for these accounts may be worthwhile if you plan on spending a lot of health care dollars this year. 

5. Buy anti-malaria drugs in your home country

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you buy anti-malaria drugs before traveling abroad. Drugs purchased in malaria endemic countries may be counterfeit or substandard, and some travelers have died from malaria while taking these subtherapeutic drugs.

6. Talk to your doctor

The information shown here helps you get the most bang for your health care buck but does not substitute for talking to your doctor.

Ask your doctor about cost-effective options for malaria prevention and the right anti-malaria drug for you and your travel destination. 

Remember, prevention is the cheapest form of medicine. Use insecticide repellents to prevent mosquito bites in the first place! For more prevention tips, check out my article, “Guide to preventing malaria.”

Dr. Bic Dang specializes in infectious diseases and previously worked as a physician epidemiologist at the CDC. She loves traveling abroad, from scuba diving in Honduras to volunteering at an orphanage in Vietnam to doing HIV/AIDS work in Lesotho.