The Star-Ledger

Bill Aids Comparison Shopping For Prescription Drugs

The Star-Ledger — Friday, June 9, 2006

BY DUNSTAN McNICHOL
Star-Ledger Staff

New Jersey residents would be able to comparison shop from home before they set out to buy prescription drugs under legislation approved by the full Assembly yesterday.

The bill (A2537) was approved 72-3. A similar bill was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee last month and is awaiting further committee action.

As originally proposed, the bill would have required pharmacies to compile price lists of dozens of popular prescription drugs and post them in their stores for shoppers to see.

After objections from the N.J. Council of Chain Drug Stores, an industry lobbying group, lawmakers amended the bill to require only that the state set up a Web site and toll-free number where shoppers can check to find the current retail price of drugs at various pharmacies.

Information for the site will be provided by the state Medicaid office, which already receives pricing information from pharmacies, said the bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer).

"With the ability to comparison shop for prescription drugs from the comfort of their homes, New Jersey's seniors will know that they are getting the best deals possible," Greenstein said.

The bill sets up an Internet database that would list current retail prices for 150 of the most popular prescription drugs.

The state would update the site weekly, with the state Board of Pharmacy ensuring the site is kept current.

The measure won support from the American Association of Retired People and consumer groups like Citizen Action and the Public Interest Research Group.

It was crafted in response to studies that show prices for select prescription drugs varied by an average of $47 between major pharmacy chains in Mercer County. An Associated Press report on New York drug prices found a 30-pill bottle of the popular cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor could be purchased for prices ranging from $45 to $188 depending on what store a customer used.

"Consumers need all the help they can in dealing with the ever-increasing cost of prescription drugs," said Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), a doctor and another sponsor of the bill. "Providing a simple tool that can help all consumers save money by finding the best deals on medications is a worthy public endeavor."

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