Re: Drug prices vary wildly by store, Cox survey finds (Michigan)

In article <134sdcf4lp40gfc@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>,
Jim Higgins <gordian238@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

Drug prices vary wildly by store, Cox survey finds

Prices for commonly prescribed drugs can vary by 100% or more from
pharmacy to pharmacy in some Michigan communities, but consumers often
don't know that because the state's drug-pricing information Web site is
inadequate, Attorney General Mike Cox said Thursday.

Cox said the site doesn't report prices for many common prescription
drugs and is confusing and harder to use than similar sites in other states.

Cox and the Granholm administration have been at odds over the Web site
for months, and this is the fourth time investigators from his office
have conducted telephone surveys to compare drug prices. The latest
survey, conducted May 7-11, focused on 11 drugs regularly prescribed for
chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease from 200 pharmacies
in 10 cities.

At a news conference Thursday, Cox urged the Department of Community
Health to increase the number of drugs listed to 150 or 200 -- currently
30 are listed -- and ramp up efforts to market

"It's a tragedy that Michigan does not have a broad-based, user-friendly
... Web site," he said. "The people of Michigan are, quite literally,
paying the price."

Later Thursday, a department spokesman said the state budget crisis
makes it unlikely that money would be available to meet Cox's request in
the near future.

"It would be a nice thing to do," spokesman T.J. Bucholz said, "but in
the bigger scheme of things -- like providing health care for poor
people -- it's not high on our list of priorities."

The Web site is updated on a biweekly basis. It was last updated May 4.

Cox cited the example of pharmacies in Lansing, where the retail price
for a prescription of the sleep medication Ambien varied by 110% ($90
vs. $188.99) from one location to another.

In Detroit, Cox's researchers found that Ambien was selling for vastly
different prices at two Walgreens stores. A store at 19800 Plymouth Road
was charging for $138 for the medicine, his office said, while a store
at 14048 Woodward was selling it for $174.99.

A clerk at Blair Pharmacy at 2141 E. Jefferson, also in Detroit, was
stunned to learn that the same dosage of Ambien was so costly at other
pharmacies. The survey listed the pills at $80 there.

Factors that determine price

The price for prescription medication can vary significantly, depending
on who is making the purchase and what prescription medication coverage
applies to the transaction. Insurers, government agencies and employers
who manage prescription-drug plans typically negotiate prices below
retail for their constituents.

Michigan officials said they don't know how many people are paying the
listed retail prices but estimate that as many as 1.1 million
Michiganders do not have prescription-drug coverage. And Cox said many
seniors with Medicare drug coverage are forced to pay retail at least
some of the time.

Not everyone can shop around

Detroiter Marion Hadley, 90, said she spends about $300 a month for her
medication, despite having an insurance prescription plan -- for which
she pays $66 monthly. Hadley is being treated for arthritis, high
cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and thyroid disease.

"I'm on mega medications," Hadley said. "I take seven to eight different
kinds daily. It's really sinful the way they charge so much. There was a
time when I spent more for medicine than I did for food."

Hadley said she is unable to shop around for more affordable prices
because she stopped driving last winter. And often, she said,
less-expensive pharmacies don't have all the medications she needs.
Before she stopped driving, she said, she visited five drug stores to
compare prices when she was forced to get an expensive prescription not
included in her drug plan.

Just this week, Hadley had to purchase a bottle of eye drops not covered
by her insurance. The cost: $55.

"It was tiny," she said. "I'll probably be able to use it 10 times and
then it will be gone."

Web site pricing helps seniors

Bill Knox, association state director for government affairs for AARP
Michigan, said that as more people are forced to pay for their own
drugs, there has to be a uniform way for customers to compare prices and
shop electronically.

AARP has an online consumer guide to help find affordable drugs. The
organization offers a search engine for about 150 drugs, both generic
and name brand, with the Medicaid price so seniors know whether they're
paying more than they should.

Knox said seniors are becoming more technologically savvy and using the
Internet for shopping.

"It's really strange that in the same town, you can buy the same
medicine but have a difference in cost of $80," Knox said. "That's why
it's absolutely necessary to enable people to make shopping trips
through their computer."

One would think that insurers paying a substantial fraction of the
consumers cost would track this and be negotiating these things or
perhaps subtly promoting some favored sources.

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