VA Offers Lower Prescription Drug Costs Than Medicare Discount Cards, Study Finds
The average price for a year's supply of a prescription drug was $220 higher for people using the Medicare drug discount card than for members of a Department of Veterans Affairs health plan, according to a Families USA study released Tuesday, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. For the study, Families USA, an advocacy group, focused on the prices of 50 drugs offered through several discount card vendors in one ZIP code area in Cincinnati and compared those prices with prices on the Web site for VA pharmacy benefits, later confirmed with a VA employee.
People using Medicare discount drug cards paid more for 49 of the 50 most frequently used drugs by senior citizens than they would have through the VA drug plan. For example, the lowest price for Plavix -- a blood clot reducing agent that is the most heavily prescribed drug for seniors -- was $887.16 annually through a VA health plan, while the lowest cost for the drug using a Medicare drug discount card was $1,230.36, a difference of 38.7%. The lowest price for the cholesterol drug Lipitor was $498.84 through a VA health plan, 46.5% lower than the lowest discount card price of $730.56, according to the report.
The discount cards have been used for about 18 months and will be replaced on Jan. 1, 2006, when the Medicare prescription drug benefit takes effect. Gary Karr, spokesperson for CMS, said that as advertised, the drug discount cards provided savings of 10% to 25% for prescription drug costs for people without drug coverage. Karr added that private drug plans participating in the Medicare drug benefit will cover a wider variety of drugs than the VA drug program. Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said, "I don't believe there's any serious likelihood the private plans will come close to matching the prices that the VA has achieved," adding that private plans will not have the same leverage that the federal government would in negotiating drug prices (Freking, AP/Long Island Newsday, 9/27).
Additional information on the Medicare drug benefit is available online.