|A Remedy For High Prices:
A Tribune Look At The
Prescription Price War
By STEPHEN McGUIRE, RICHARD SCHACK & JUSTINA
For many Queens residents, dispensing their own hard earned
dollars for high priced medications may be a bitter pill to swallow and some feel the
condition is only getting worse. However a Tribune survey this week found that the
key to surviving your prescription bills is shopping around for the best price.
In an effort to help readers determine where
to find the best buys on some of the most widely prescribed medications, The Trib
used the same, five, brand name drugs cited in a recent study by Congressman Joseph
Crowley, and shopped around for the best prices.
The Crowley studys results, released last week, found
that individual seniors in his constituency often pay up to 140 percent more for their
prescriptions than HMOs with their group buying power pay for the same
Using the prescription drugs,
Zocor, which regulates cholesterol levels;
Norvasc, a blood pressure medication; Prilosec, used
in the treatment of ulcers;
Procardia XL, a heart medication; and
Zoloft, which is used in the treatment of
Tribune reporters did some price checking of their own by
randomly selecting pharmacies in the areas they cover and comparing prices. (See
prescription Price Chart.)
Generally, larger chain pharmacies have the same prices
throughout all of their Queens locations.
For example, the CVS pharmacy in Bayside
gave us the same price quotes on the five prescriptions as the CVS in Ozone Park.
Because the larger chains sometimes deal with a higher
volume of customers, some critics of larger drug stores claim that the
"personal" attention that is common in independent pharmacies gets lost in the
high traffic shuffle.
IS BIGGER BETTER?
Larger pharmacy chains may be quicker and more convenient
when getting a prescription filled but when it comes to price, bigger, in this case,
doesnt necessarily mean better.
The Trib survey found that the chain pharmacy stores
Rite-Aid and Genovese quoted some of the highest prices in the borough.
Rite-Aid quoted the highest price for the prescription
drugs Zocor and Prilosec. Genovese drug stores quoted the highest prices for Norvasc,
Procardia XL and Zoloft.
INDEPENDENT PHARMACIES AND SAVINGS
The Tribune shopping survey showed that smaller,
independent, pharmacies offered the best prices on the selected prescription medications.
Our survey showed that some of the best savings were found at the following locations :
Drug Town in Ridgewood which offered the lowest
price on Procardia XL
Three Js in Elmhurst offered the lowest price
Family Pharmacy in Astoria offered the lowest price
Briarwood Pharmacy in Jamaica offered the lowest
prices for Zocor and Prilosec
Garnering an honorable mention is Rocky Hill
Pharmacy in Bellerose where the pharmacist said they will beat any price quoted
The Trib survey also found that many independent
pharmacies also offer senior discounts.
PRICE POSTING REQUIREMENT
State law requires that all pharmacies display a standard
large blue drug price poster near the pharmacy counter. The poster, known as the
"Prescription Drug List," contains the current selling price of the "150
most frequently prescribed drugs " in the state together with their "usual
In New York City this law is enforced by the Dept of
PROGRAM OF "EPIC" PROPORTIONS
EPIC (Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage) is a
state run prescription drug assistance program that assists senior citizens with the cost
of prescription drug purchases.
To qualify for the EPIC program, applicants should be at
least 65-years-old, a resident of New York State; do not receive Medicaid have an income
that does not exceed $17,500 per year if single and $23,000 if married.
There are two EPIC programs available for seniors. The
first is a fee program that requires payment of a premium based on income. Subscribers of
the fee program receive a 50-60 percent discount on all of their prescription drug
The second program is the deductible plan which allows for
the 50-60 percent discount after spending the amount of the deductible on prescription
drug purchases each year.
For more information on the EPIC program, call 1 (800)
GETTING THE TREATMENT YOU DESERVE
Law requires that all pharmacists offer face-to-face
counseling service to customers each time they fill a prescription.
Counseling should involve talking about drug safety, side
effects, interactions with other drugs and proper storage.
As a customer, you are entitled to refuse the counseling,
however the offer must always be made verbally by the pharmacist.
State law also requires pharmacists to maintain patient
medication profiles and conduct a prospective drug review before dispensing or delivering
a prescription to a customer.
The review should include screening for therapeutic
duplication; drug-drug interactions; incorrect dosage or duration of treatment, drug
allergy interactions and clinical abuse or misuse.
Many companies manufacture drugs of identical chemical
composition to that of several brand name drugs.
These are known as the "generic equivalents" of
the trade-marked, brand name drugs.
Generic drugs are marketed under the official names given
by the United States Food and Drug Administration. (FDA).
Many of the commonly prescribed drugs have generic
equivalents, but some drugs are patented, and cannot be manufactured generically.
If you are not sure if a generic exists for your
medication, ask your doctor.
GENERICS AND SAVING MONEY
Consumers can save up to 50 percent on some prescription
drugs by using low cost generics instead of brand names.
Whenever your doctor prescribes a drug, you may want to ask
if a suitable generic alternative is available.
According to the Dept. of Consumer Affairs, Shopping around
for generic drugs can result in significant cost savings.
Consumer Affairs officials said that comparison shopping is
also important because pharmacists are not requires to give the lowest priced generic drug
available, only one that is less expensive than the brand name.
The blue, "Commonly Used Drug" poster on display
at your pharmacy should list the generic equivalents to most brand name drugs.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
The difference is that brand name drugs and their generic
equivalents may look or taste different because the companies that make them use different
colors, shapes and flavors in the manufacturing process.
However, the drugs act the same way in your body, according
to the Dept. of Consumer Affairs.
If the look or taste of a new or generic drug concerns you,
talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE A COMPLAINT
If you feel that your pharmacist does not follow your
doctors orders, does not offer counseling, or fails to maintain your medication
profile, you can write or call :
The New York State Education Dept.
Office of Professional Discipline
1 Park Ave. 6th Floor
New York, NY 10016
If the blue price poster is missing or your pharmacy does
not honor the prices listed on it, you can write or call:
The New York City Dept. of Consumer Affairs
Att: Consumer Services Division
New York, NY 10004
or on the web at www.ci.nyc.ny.us/consumers