For those in the market for a drug to lower their cholesterol, here’s some useful news:
A 30-day supply of Atorvastatin – a generic version of Lipitor -- is going for $10.50 on line at Health Warehouse, and $12.88 at Sam’s Club. But for the unsuspecting consumer who strays into a Publix super market, it will cost $91.64 without a special coupon, or $145 at Walgreens without the discount.
Or how about some Cialis for men seeking to improve their sexual performance? Walmart and Walgreens are offering 30 tablets for $249 with a discount while Rite-Aid and Safeway will hit you for up to $300 if you don’t have a coupon.
Welcome to the wild and bewildering world of prescription drug pricing. Skyrocketing prices of cutting-edge biologic drugs like Gilead Sciences’ Sovaldi and Harvoni for treating patients with the Hepatitis-C virus (as much as $84,000 per course of treatment) have received considerable attention from the news media, Congress and presidential candidates. However, far less is known about the pricing of more routine brand name and generic prescription drugs.
That’s pretty much the way the pharmaceutical industry and its outlets want to keep it.
As The New York Times reported this week, most major pharmacies do not bother to list the prices of the prescription drugs they sell. “And even if they do, prices for the same drug can vary strikingly and cost far more than the rate that most insurers pay,” according to the report.
In short, consumers typically don’t know how much they or their insurers will be paying until they walk in off the street and pick up their prescriptions. As a result, consumers are inadvertently paying many hundreds of millions of dollars more for their drugs every year than is necessary. “The prices are all over the map, even within the same ZIP code,” Lisa Gill, deputy editor of Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, told the newspaper. “It’s a retail transaction that doesn’t actually act like any retail transaction.”
Now, that may be changing. Discerning consumers have begun arming themselves with new on-line tools or apps that penetrate the veil of generic drug prices and enable them to shop around for the best prices. One of the start-up companies, GoodRx, gathers drug prices at pharmacies across the country and steers consumers to coupons to obtain big discounts. The Fiscal Times used this website to report on the above drug prices.
Another site, Blink Health, makes life even easier by enabling people to pay for their drugs online before picking up their prescriptions at most pharmacies in their area. “This is the first time the consumer knows what the price of the item is before they get to the register,” explained Geoffrey Chaiken, one of Blink Health’s founders. “We cracked the code.”