Consumers do a lot of comparison-shopping for tires, cars, home furnishings and airline flights, but what about prescriptions? New York's attorney general says that if you're not doing comparison pricing on prescriptions, you should be.
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says the results of a statewide survey of prescription drug prices shows that prices for the same medication can vary significantly among local pharmacies and can differ widely across the state.
Granted, it's not easy to comparison shop for prescriptions. Drug stores don't advertise their prices. But in New York, at least, it's just gotten easier. Spitzer has launched a new interactive website - - the first of its kind in the nation - - that allows consumers to check for certain prescription drug prices charged by pharmacies in the survey. The new website can be found at www.NYAGRx.org.
"The escalating cost of prescription drugs is a burden for all New Yorkers but especially for seniors on fixed incomes, the uninsured and those lacking adequate prescription coverage," Spitzer said. "By posting the prices of common prescription drugs at pharmacies across the state on our new website, we hope to make it easier for all consumers to comparison shop and keep their costs as low as possible."
In July, Spitzer's office surveyed 170 randomly-selected pharmacies in 25 counties across the state to determine the prices of the 25 most commonly prescribed drugs. Staffers from Spitzer's office visited each selected pharmacy and asked for its Drug Retail Price List of the 150 most frequently prescribed drugs (with the most commonly prescribed dosage and quantity), which state law requires pharmacies to supply to consumers on request.
State law also requires pharmacies to prominently post a sign informing consumers that their Drug Retail Price List is available. Spitzer's staff reviewed the lists from surveyed pharmacies and posted the prices of the 25 most commonly prescribed drugs at www.NYAGRx.org.
A review of the retail prices for these drugs revealed that prices sometimes differed sharply from pharmacy to pharmacy in a county or region. For example:
• In the Albany region, Vioxx (dosage: 25mg; quantity: 30), commonly prescribed to relieve arthritis pain, was $82.49 at the lowest surveyed price and $114.29 at the highest, a difference of nearly $32.
• In the Binghamton region, Lamisil (dosage: 250mg; quantity: 30) a foot fungus drug, was $250.19 at the lowest surveyed price and $372.97 at the highest, a difference of over $122.
• In the New York City region, Allegra (dosage: 60mg; quantity: 60), an allergy relief drug, was $47.20 at the lowest surveyed price and $144.97 at the highest, a difference of nearly $98.
• In the Buffalo region, Cipro (dosage: 500mg; quantity: 20), a commonly prescribed antibiotic, was $110.36 at the lowest surveyed price and $178.25 at the highest, a difference of nearly $68.
• In the Westchester region, Advair Diskus (dosage: 250 mg; quantity: 60), commonly prescribed for asthma treatment, was $134.77 at the lowest price and $190.99 at the highest price, a difference of more than $56.
• In the Syracuse region, Nexium (dosage: 40 mg; quantity: 30), which is prescribed for heartburn, was $124.39 at the lowest surveyed price and $179.30 at the highest, a difference of nearly $55.
Besides significant price variation within a county, the survey also found that retail prices of seven of the 25 most commonly prescribed drugs varied more than 100 percent across the state. For example, Atenolol (dosage: 50 mg; quantity: 30) a generic blood pressure drug, was $3.42 at its lowest surveyed price, in Broome County, and $30.95 at the highest surveyed price in Kings County - almost 9 times more expensive than its lowest surveyed price.
"The lesson here is simple -- a good way to keep your prescription prices down is to shop for the best price," Spitzer said. "If you see a lower price for one of your medications on our website, you may want to ask your pharmacy if they will match the lower price."
Spitzer offered the following 4-step checklist for consumers trying to shop wisely for their prescriptions:
1. SHOP AROUND. Prescription drug prices may vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy and county to county.
2. ASK FOR THE DRUG RETAIL PRICE LIST. Under New York law, every pharmacy is required to give a print-out of its retail prices of its 150 most commonly prescribed drugs. If your medication is not listed, ask your pharmacist for the pricing information and compare prices.
3. PRICE MATCH. Some pharmacies offer to match prices offered by another pharmacy in the area. If you find lower prices at other pharmacies, do not hesitate to ask if your pharmacy will match the lower prices.
4. VISIT www.NYAGRx.org for prescription drug price comparison information of surveyed pharmacies, which is updated monthly. The website also includes a pharmacy locator that allows consumers to search for local pharmacies; helpful information for consumers about how to shop for prescription drugs; and links to public and private programs that offer discounted or free medication and information about the proper use of prescription drugs.
Spitzer noted that nearly 5.6 million New Yorkers lacked insurance at some point in the last year and paid the full price for their medications out of their own pockets. Also, many New Yorkers with insurance lack adequate prescription drug coverage and must buy their medications at full price.