October 12, 2006
CR price survey finds huge disparity in prescription drug costs; CU’s president says Congress must close loopholes that keep generics off the market
YONKERS, NY — Consumer Reports’ unbiased survey of prices for five common prescription generic medications found striking differences in costs at 132 pharmacies across the U.S. For example, for a family paying out-of-pocket for all five drugs, the difference between the highest and lowest prices could total nearly $2,200 a year on top of the substantial savings gained by choosing generic rather than brand-name versions of those medications.
The November issue of Consumer Reports (CR) helps consumers shop around for the best deals.
CR found that prices for a 30-day supply of these five drugs varied sharply, from $43 at a Costco in Sacramento, Calif., to $296 at an independent pharmacy in Clayton, Mo. Prices fluctuate dramatically even within the same chains and the same stores. At ShopKo, for example, prices for the five drugs ranged from $80 in Marquette, Mich., to $150 in Redding, Calif.
The five drugs CR compared for costs are fluoxetine for depression, lisinopril for hypertension, lovastatin for high cholesterol, metformin for type 2 diabetes, and warfarin for preventing dangerous blood clots.
Choosing lower-cost generic drugs over brand-name drugs whenever possible is one good way for consumers to save money on prescription medications. But to obtain even greater savings, consumers need to shop at the right pharmacies and ask the right questions.
To make it easier and faster for consumers to compare prices and order prescription medications, CU is launching a free Shop Online service at www.ConsumerReports.org/health. This site’s Consumer Reports Medical Guide section contains Drug Reviews with free safety information for more than 1,000 brand-name and generic drugs. Visitors can then click through to a secure page listing objective price information from online pharmacies and other retailers that sell the drug they’ve selected.
In CR’s survey, online pharmacies, particularly those affiliated with conventional stores (such as cvs.com), and mass merchants (such as Wal-Mart and Target), tended to charge the least. They’re followed by independents, supermarkets (such as Albertson’s, Kroger, and Safeway), and drug chains (CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid).
Bottleneck at the FDA
Price discrepancies aren’t the only obstacle to potential savings from generic drugs.
A bottleneck at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and stalling tactics by brand-name drug makers are delaying the approval of numerous generic drugs. Consumers Union President Jim Guest wrote, “Congress must close loopholes that let makers of brand name drugs keep lower-cost generics off the market. When several widely prescribed medications come off patent in the next few years, the pharmaceutical companies shouldn’t have the ability to delay our access to competitively priced generics.”
A group especially affected right now by high drug costs are those seniors on Medicare Part D who have hit the “doughnut hole” and don’t have any drug coverage. Many who don’t have financial help will be forced to go without drugs or go without basic needs. CU believes that Congress must do its part by giving Medicare the authority to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, saving seniors and taxpayers billions of dollars, and by filling the doughnut hole, guaranteeing continuous drug coverage for those who need it most.
Steps consumers can take now To save money, check www.ConsumerReportsBestBuyDrugs.org to find out whether generics are more cost effective for treating your condition than name brands. Then ask your pharmacist or doctor about switching. Call pharmacies or visit their web sites to ask about costs. Prices might vary substantially depending on whether you buy capsules or tablets. Ask your pharmacist to match lower
prices. That makes sense if you want to stick with one pharmacy, which might reduce the chance of
taking incompatible drugs. Ask your doctor to prescribe 90-day supplies of your medications, which
typically cost much less than the 30-day supplies that are often prescribed. If you sign up for a Medicare
drug plan, try to reevaluate their offerings about three times per year, although this can be difficult. If you
can get better prices or coverage elsewhere, switch during the open enrollment period.
Consider CU’s free Shop Online service at www.ConsumerReport.org//health. From the Consumer Reports Medical Guide section, click on the Drug Reviews A—Z Index and select a drug. Clicking
on the Shop Online symbol ($) for that drug will take you to a secure page listing objective price information from online pharmacies and other retailers. This new trusted, unbiased tool makes it easier for consumers to compare prices and order prescription drugs, while learning more about the medications they’re taking.
The November 2006 issue of Consumer Reports is on sale now wherever magazines are sold. To
subscribe, call 1-800-765-1845.
Joan Eve Quinn (914) 378-2436
© Consumers Union 2006. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.