The founding partners knew they would face scrutiny, and were determined to design a program that would satisfy all concerns. They knew providing prescription maintenance medications to U.S. residents would be met with resistance. They also knew they were establishing the soundest, safest such program in the industry when they founded CANARX in 2002.

The company’s culture of safety goes all the way back to the company’s genesis as a friend doing a favor. CANARX Founder G. Anthony Howard received a call one day from his friend Betty, a fellow retiree in Arizona, in tears as she was forced to choose between groceries and high-cost, critical medications. He began taking her prescriptions back to Canada to be filled at a fraction of the price. Soon he was assisting a group of his fellow retirees. It was this concept of personal importation that inspired Tony Howard to do just that on a larger scale. He would bring together a group of physicians and pharmacists to form CANARX.

“When you look at where this really originated being that you’re helping friends with medications that they need to survive, of course safety is going to be the top concern,” CANARX Vice President for Business Enablement Mike Howard said.

Today, that safety starts with the source. CANARX provides brand-name maintenance medications exclusively and those prescriptions come from the U.S.-designated Tier 1 countries of Canada, the U.K. and Australia.

“For us, it was the safest possible option because you’re sending not only the manufacturer’s sealed packaging, it’s going to have the expiration dates on it – you’re giving everything to the patient,” CANARX President Bob Howard said.

The CANARX formulary and safety measures have evolved over two decades of addressing the concerns of plans, regulators and insurance companies.

The programs wanted to maximize member safety while limiting exposure, which resulted in a restricted formulary that excluded items such as narcotics and temperature-sensitive medications. As medical treatments and safety protocols continue to evolve, so will their formulary.

“We adjust our program on an ongoing basis and we always err on the side of caution,” Bob Howard said.

“What really changed the direction of the industry was when people started going to countries that weren’t really approved. As the cash industry went in that direction, they started finding loopholes,” he said. “Once you step outside of a Tier 1 country, you’re outside the umbrella of regulatory agencies.”

CANARX only works with pharmacies in Tier 1 countries where standards meet or even exceed those in the United States. Medications are sent from the manufacturer to those countries, then from the wholesaler to the registered pharmacist, and finally directly to the patient in the manufacturer’s original sealed packaging.

In addition to federal guidelines, there’s CANARX’s self-regulation that includes a Quality Assurance Team of doctors and pharmacists who regularly inspect all licensed pharmacies. CANARX also operates under the enhanced scrutiny of its own customers.

The fact that we’re actually endorsed by multiple states, multiple government bodies – that in itself speaks to the validity of our program.

They’ve done their due diligence, said Howard.

If you’re going to some online pharmacy, who’s doing the check on that pharmacy?

CANARX looks at safety from every angle, looking out for its partners, plan holders and, most importantly, each individual plan member. Temperature-sensitive medications proved too volatile in transit, so they were removed from the formulary. Early on, CANARX was working on a program for Illinois and accompanied state inspectors to each pharmacy that would be dispensing for their program. They expressed concern over providing generic meds to employees, so they too were restricted from the list of medications offered.

“We’re consistently evolving our internal systems and customer tracking systems and databases,” Mike Howard said. “We use them to search out different conditions, we get medical histories on our patients, and we’re actively flagging possible interactions between meds and conditions. I would highly doubt that other online pharmacies take those steps.”

Finally, CANARX is fully covered by an exceptional, one-of-a-kind liability insurance via Lloyd’s of London, protecting all plan members, pharmacies, plan sponsors and brokers. In 20 years, not a single claim has been filed.

Being the pioneer and leader in the industry does draw a lot of attention, which includes competition.

There have been many companies that have attempted to copy the CANARX model and success.

“We’ve had a number of companies copy our marketing, catch phrases, and reference our clients and successes in an attempt to appear like us or confuse the market,” Bob Howard said. “We became aware of one company that was even marketing to our current clients as a gap-filler to our program, offering international sourcing for medications we have restricted for the CANARX program.”

While some may appear on the surface to be offering the same program, the company recommends plan holders apply the same due diligence and fact-finding when they looked into the CANARX program.

“We’ll always prioritize safety and our reputation for having the safest program out there over dollars and cents,” Mike Howard said. “In the words of CANARX founder G. Anthony Howard, ‘It’s not just about convenience and price, it’s about providing the safest, highest-quality medication at the lowest possible cost.’”