Prescription Drug Prices Vary Widely in Bay Area, Survey Finds
Prescription drug prices vary widely by category and by store in the Bay Area, according to a survey of local independent pharmacies, drugstore chains, mail-order outlets and Canadian online pharmacies, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Researchers at the Bay Area Consumers' Checkbook anonymously called 250 retailers in six area counties between January and March to inquire about the prices of 17 relatively common medications, such as the anti-cholesterol medication Lipitor and the erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra. Researchers then created an index showing deviations from average prices for each of the medications, choosing $100 as the average price. Researchers found that prices at independent pharmacies had an average price index of $104. However, prices varied between an average price index of $69 at one San Francisco pharmacy to as much as $130 at other independent stores. At chain drugstores, the average price index was $103, with Costco demonstrating the lowest price index, averaging $69. Average price indices at online and mail-order pharmacies ranged from $67 at Familymeds.com to $102 at Apothecary Shoppe. Researchers concluded that prices at online and mail-order pharmacies often were lower than other stores' prices because online and mail-order pharmacies have lower overhead costs. In addition, the study found that prices for some generic drugs and for Viagra were less expensive locally than from Canadian online pharmacies.
Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that because brand-name prescription drugs are less expensive in Canada than in the United States, pricing on generic medications is less competitive in Canada, the Chronicle reports. Checkbook Editor Robert Krughoff said determining prescription drug prices is complex, explaining that there are "different levels of discounts stores get from distributors and manufacturers, different pricing policies with regards to loss leaders, differences in store costs." He added, "Having said all that, I still think it's striking how large these differences (between retailers) are." The report also found that among seven metropolitan areas surveyed nationwide, prescription drug prices in the Bay Area ranked second-highest behind those in Washington, D.C. (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.