Arlington, VA — A new survey indicates that senior citizens may be looking in the wrong place when they ask Washington to do something about prescription drug prices.
The survey of drug prices conducted by the 60 Plus Association showed price variations for generic drugs from 304% to an extraordinary 856%; and for brand-name medicines, such as Prilosec, Lipitor, Celebrex and Paxil, included in the survey, of from 53% to 175%.
Jim Martin, president of the seniors’ lobby said of the survey results, “Our study found huge price differences both in brand name and generic drugs. Most surprising were the major variations in generics, suggesting strongly that seniors should shop around before buying.”
“The bottom line is this: seniors are buyers and the old saying, ‘let the buyer beware’ holds especially true for prescription drugs, and even more so for generic drugs, where the savings can be substantial. Interestingly, a recent drug price survey done for AARP in Pennsylvania showed similarly wide variations in prescription costs. In response, AARP’s state director said the message for consumers is to ‘shop around for the best price’.”
The White House and Congress should pay heed. Adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare may be inevitable, and the right thing to do. But before Washington creates a costly new program to help seniors pay for medications, the politicians should understand that seniors can do much to control costs on their own. In short, they can shop around for drugs, as they do for food, clothing and cars.
Martin also said, “Consider the following scenario: if a brand drug’s patent expires while selling at $100 a month for a one-month supply and the generic is offered at $38.15, you immediately calculate that you have saved over $60; however, you have mistakenly assumed that you have been offered the rock-bottom lowest price there is. But another pharmacy in the same city was offering the same generic for $3.99, an extra savings of $95 for the month’s supply!”
The survey of drug prices was conducted by the Dominion Group in 111 retail pharmacies in six cities. It included independent drugstores, chain drugstores such as CVS , Eckerd and Rite Aid, and national and regional supermarket and discount chains including Kmart, Target and Wal-Mart. All medications that were priced are among the five most frequently prescribed drugs for seniors as reported in “Bitter Pill: The Rising Prices of Prescription Drugs for Older Americans.”
The researchers also found that there were considerable differences in the prices of specific drugs within the six cities surveyed. In Miami, for example, a senior citizen actually could pay as little a $7.62 for a 30-day supply of the heart medication digoxin, or as much as $25.20 for the same medication from a different pharmacy — a 350% mark-up. In fact, depending on where he or she shops, a senior citizen could pay more for a generic than for the brand-name version.
Martin added that, “the lesson here for both seniors and policy makers is that it pays to shop around. There is no simple or easy answer to the question: How much is too much to pay for a tiny pill that can save your life or that of a loved one? This is a profound ethical question we will be debating for years to come. In the meantime, when President Bush and the new Congress focus next year on the Medicare prescription drug issue, they would do well to remember the lessons of the 60 Plus survey”.
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James L. Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association, Arlington, VA, a 10-year-old nonpartisan national senior-citizen advocacy organization that is supported by its estimated 500,000 members.