Rx DRUG COSTS: Prices Vary Widely Across State, Survey Says
Wide price disparities exist for four popular drugs -- Prilosec, Prozac, Claritin and Celebrex -- among pharmacies and communities throughout California, according to a new survey, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sponsored last month by the not-for-profit International Patient Advocacy Association, the telephone survey compared drug prices at two Internet sites and 85 pharmacies in 19 communities across the state. According to the survey, Costco Wholesale Corp. offered the lowest prices in "every community where it was included in the survey." However, other large chains, such as Rite Aid Corp. and Longs Drug Sales Corp., "were rarely the price leaders," while independent drug stores ranked competitively in several of the cities polled. The survey also revealed that larger cities, despite a greater number of retail stores and increased competition, often did not offer the best prices. Statewide, prices for Celebrex ranged from $44.91 to $104.40, and Prozac prices varied from $135.98 to $294.49. Claritin ranged from $57.54 to $102.75, while Prilosec prices varied from $103.98 to $171.45. Elizabeth Johnson, senior vice president of the 6,000 member California Pharmacists Association, attributed the substantial disparities to a number of factors, including the cost of recruiting and paying "hard-to- find" pharmacists.
Pharmacies to Blame?
The survey highlights a growing national debate about rising prescription drug costs. According to IPAA President Lenny Van Pelt, "In every newspaper you open and [on] every television you turn on, the debate is over prescription drugs." John Schneider, director of research for the California Association of Health Plans, was surprised by "the alarmingly high cost of some of these prescription drugs," adding that seniors "paying out of pocket may be the most vulnerable to retail price uncertainty." A report issued last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 74 cents of each dollar spent on retail prescription drugs goes to the manufacturer, while the distributor receives only three cents, and the retail pharmacy gets 23 cents. Van Pelt said, "While many people are pointing the finger of blame at the drug makers for the rising costs of medications, pharmacies also play a role in high prices." Although KFF analyst Larry Levitt credited the survey "for shining a light on what's going on" in the prescription drug market, he concluded, "[E]ven at the lowest prices, most of these drugs are going to be unaffordable for a low-income senior without drug coverage. So, ultimately, it's coverage and not lower prices that is going to make a real difference in seniors' lives" (Benson, 8/23).