The Houston Chronicle

Px Comparison Shopping Coming Soon To NJ

The Houston Chronicle — Monday, August 21, 2006

By TOM HESTER Jr.
Associated Press Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. — New Jersey residents in need of prescription medication will be able to comparison shop for less expensive drugs using a state run Web site whose creation was set in motion Monday.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed into law a bill that would create a state Web site listing pharmacy-by-pharmacy retail prices for the 150 most frequently prescribed drugs.

"This makes sense," Corzine said, during a visit to a senior citizens center. "This is fundamental."

The Web site, slated to be up and running by fall 2007, would be designed to easily allow consumers to find the cheapest prescription drugs. The governor said he hopes the site will be up and running much sooner than next year.

Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, a bill sponsor, said prices should also drop through increased competition.

"I hope so," said Zola Dunn, 82, of Roselle, who just spent $105 for a prescription ointment. "I hope so."

New Jersey would follow New York, Maryland, Illinois and Florida in creating such a Web site.

Consumers will be able to log in to the Web site to search drug prices by ZIP code. For people who don't have Internet access, the registry would be made available in writing to consumers who call a toll-free telephone number.

"Knowledge is power and consumers have the right to make an informed decision by knowing ahead of time what medications cost so they can make a cost comparison," said Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, a bill sponsor. "They should not have to travel from pharmacy to pharmacy to do that."

John Holub, of the New Jersey Council of Chain Drug Stores, said the pharmacy industry is pleased the bill signed into law requires the state – not pharmacies – to gather the drug price information.

In a recent study, the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute found an average price difference of $47 in drug prices at chain drug stores in the Mercer County area.

A check of New York's Web site showed wide pricing ranges for common drugs.

For instance, Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medication, cost $64 to $136 for 30 pills, while the allergy drug Zyrtec cost $55 to $409 for 30 doses. New York officials say the site has helped consumers save $17 per prescription on average.

Laura Hatcher is among those the Web site will be designed to help. She needs 11 prescription drugs to combat multiple sclerosis and high blood pressure and cholesterol.

"They're real expensive," said Hatcher, a 55-year-old wheelchair-bound East Brunswick resident who fears she one day she won't be able to afford her medications.

Hatcher gets drugs through Medicare but she struggles when she has to cover part of their cost herself.

"I need most of them to live," Hatcher said.

Consumer advocate group New Jersey Citizen Action has said 20 percent of uninsured New Jerseyans require at least one prescription drug, with 65,000 uninsured residents requiring four prescription drugs.

It's estimated the state would have to spend $322,000 to create the Web site this year, with the site then costing $72,000 each year to run.

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