Prescription Drugs: Shop around for the Best Prices. (from Consumer Alert)

Consumers' Research Magazine, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Prescription Drugs: Shop around for the Best Prices. (from Consumer Alert)


Prescription-drug prices are a hot topic in the halls of Congress at both the state and federal levels and in international for a. The whole area of drug development and patents, and the marketing and pricing of pharmaceuticals--both wholesale and retail--can seem somewhat esoteric to average consumers. However, those covered by medical plans that provide drug benefits, people who are uninsured, and the elderly all may have specific concerns relating to the prices they pay for their medications. To many, the major issue is the affordability of drugs they may need for treatment of serious medical conditions.

While new Medicare prescription-drug benefits are likely for senior citizens, most people, no matter what their situation, can already save significant amounts of money on prescription drugs by shopping around. A new survey that looked at prices charged at pharmacies for seven commonly prescribed medications in cities in five different states found that prices varied considerably from pharmacy to pharmacy for the same drug.

The "Rx Challenge" surveys, sponsored by three non-profit groups--Consumer Alert, RetireSafe.org, and The National Grange--compared prices charged in the same towns by a sample of different pharmacies, ranging from independently owned businesses to large retail and discount chains; two Internet providers were included in each survey. The states surveyed included Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, and Texas. Within each state, pharmacies in a sample of cities representing both small and large towns were surveyed.

The seven commonly prescribed drugs included those to treat anxiety and hypertension, as well an anti-cholesterol and anti-inflammatory drugs. Two generic and five brand-name prescription drugs were included.

In every city and state surveyed, the results show a wide variance in prices for the same drug. In Richmond, Virginia, for example, for the drug Alprazolam, a generic drug to treat anxiety, the highest retail price for a 30-day supply was $96.49, and the lowest was $14.64--a difference of $81.85 or 559%.

While most of the differences in prices weren't that dramatic, overall in Virginia consumers could save from between 29% to that 559% by comparison shopping.

Of course, shopping for prescription drugs isn't the same as shopping for other consumer goods such as groceries. The higher price may be worth it in some instances. Pharmacies are not just drug dispensers. Consumers often receive other benefits relating to their safety and health. Dealing with the same pharmacy means that your prescription history is readily at hand, so that potential problems with drug interactions may be foreseen and discussed with the pharmacist. …

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