tell me about your drugs
August 18, 2004 12:26 PM   Subscribe

New York retail prescription drug prices. New York [USA] has a state law requiring pharmacies to keep and provide a Drug Retail Price List for the 150 most commonly prescribed drugs. The NY State Attorney General's Office collects that information monthly and makes it searchable by zipcode, city or county. The stark comparisons show that even within one region, retail drug prices can vary by as much as $120, or 50%. With five million New Yorkers uninsured and having to buy their medications at retail prices, this is a handy new tool.
posted by jessamyn (6 comments total)
This is kind of an interesting idea. I'm a bit suprised that it doesn't tend to level out the drug prices though. If I'm paying out of pocket and I can get my drugs 50% cheaper elsewhere I know that I'd change pharmacies.
posted by substrate at 12:43 PM on August 18, 2004

I'd just like to point out that this is especially important in the case of generics. Some national chain pharmacies (and others, no doubt) will price some generic medications at a fixed (small) percentage discount from how they price the name-brand versions. Other will price generics how they'd price anything else—with some appropriate markup.

The difference can be huge.

Right now, comparing Walgreens and Costco (both national, both available online, the latter not requiring membership for the pharmacy), I see Walgreens selling 100# of 20mg fluoxetine for about $60. Costco sells the same for $12.69. This was a much bigger deal a year ago when prices for fluoxetine were close to 2.5x that.

Here is an example of how badly broken the supposed "market" is for health care in the US. People who oppose reform are free-market ideologues who claim that any government reform would be more inefficient and worse than the present system. But the present system isn't a functioning market. If it were, price differentials like this wouldn't be tolerated.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:54 PM on August 18, 2004

haha "New York [USA]"
posted by mookieproof at 1:42 PM on August 18, 2004

I work with Patient Assistance Programs at a local community health center, and if you're low-income, Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefits manager (read: middleman from HMOs to pharmacies) just launched a new program to provide a number of meds at $48/yr. It's called RxOutreach.

The PAPs for all the drug manufacturers, as well as their qualification guidelines, can be found at RxAssist.
posted by gramcracker at 1:46 PM on August 18, 2004

substrate, you'd have to know you can get your drugs cheaper elsewhere, which would involve either comparison-shopping or calling around. Neither is particularly feasible for a lot of lower-income people, as it involves an outlay of both time and perhaps money (for travel) they can ill afford.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:08 PM on August 18, 2004

>Here is an example of how badly broken the supposed "market" is for health care in the US.

How is that broken? That's how a free market works. For example, you can buy a satellite card from my store for $349. If you look about on the web, you might find it for $200. That's how a healthy free market should operate.

Just as I can actually help the guy buying the card from me with a return, and I'll even install it and fix it up for his computer, whereas the website is "buy and pray", Walgreens will tell you what that $60 bottle will and won't do for you, and might even suggest alternatives. Having shopped in costco, nobody will help you with anything, not even FINDING items there. And, even if I did get advice from somebody there, I don't think I'd trust it.

You could come to Ontario, Canada and see a broken health care system. Enjoy paying a few dollars per "free" prescription drugs bottle. Or enjoy paying hundreds of dollars for medication if it doesn't keep you from dying (example: Migraine medication -- not covered).

Oh well. The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say.

>If it were, price differentials like this wouldn't be tolerated.

That's EXACTLY what happens in a free market. EXACTLY how it's supposed to operate. Have you ever priced a pair of Levi's in Lord and Taylor? Did you find the Levi's in WalMart to be less than 1/3 the price? Even food operates like this. I've seen items in the "classy" grocery stores selling for 5x what they sell in a "bring your own bag" discount grocery store.

A free market does not guarantee everything is the same price everywhere. In fact, to get that, you pretty much have to practice communism. A free market simply guarantees that a product offered at a certain service level will generally be of a similar price. Give or take. That's why you see 100 rolls of toilet paper at costco for the price of 1 at your local mini mart.

>Neither is particularly feasible for a lot of lower-income people, as it involves an outlay of both time and perhaps money (for travel) they can ill afford.

That's a total load of codswallop. I know PLENTY of people living below minimum wage (some without incomes at all), and whenever I want to find something dirt cheap, I ask them. They know where the good deals are. I expect this is because people of the same income level tend to hang out together (did I mention I'm broke too? :-D ) and discuss things like this. Well, I know I do.

And my city requires far more driving to get to places than New York. Yergh...
posted by shepd at 10:04 AM on August 19, 2004

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