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Legislation Adds Dose Of Competition

New registry lists drug costs; Corzine signs law

Home News Tribune — Tuesday, August 22, 2006

By CARMEN CUSIDO
STAFF WRITER

EAST BRUNSWICK — Gov. Jon S. Corzine yesterday signed into law the New Jersey Prescription Drug Retail Price Registry, which will allow consumers to comparison shop for the lowest-priced prescription medication.

Local seniors, members of the AARP in New Jersey, and members of New Jersey Citizen Action were at the East Brunswick Senior Center for the bill-signing, and welcomed Corzine's comments.

The law takes effect in 90 days. Seniors with access to a phone or a computer will be able to log on to a Web site to see the registry or call a toll-free hot line to find the lowest prices for their medications at nearby pharmacies.

In addition, pharmacies in the state will be required to keep a printed list of their prices for drugs and to provide that list to consumers upon request.

Joan Saldana, 67, of East Brunswick said the new legislation "is great for people that really need it." She said she might feel more comfortable using the toll-free hot line than using the Web site, but she is looking forward to saving on prescription medication.

She said she spends about $600 to $800 a month on six prescriptions. "With prescription drugs being so costly, this is a lifesaver for senior citizens," Saldana said.

The Web site will be established and maintained by the state's Division of Consumer Affairs, and will be available in English and Spanish. It's estimated the state will have to spend $322,000 to create the Web site this year, with the site then costing $72,000 per year to run.

"I am very, very pleased that we are moving in a direction that makes a difference," Corzine said at yesterday's bill-signing. He said that in addition to issues like national security, there is hardly anything more important than making health care affordable and accessible.

State Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, said there are 1.3 million New Jerseyans without health insurance, according to most recent figures, and a full third of those 65 and older living in the state do not have drug coverage.

Buono cited a recent study by the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute which found that prices on prescription-drug medications varied by as much as 20 percent among different pharmacies.

She said the model for the registry was a similar online registry in New York state – www.nyagrx.org – where consumers on average saved as much as $17 per prescription, according to the Kaiser Foundation Health Policy Report.

Senior citizens "can take control of their finances and their health with the click of a mouse," Buono said.

"There simply is no excuse not to provide access to this information," Buono said yesterday, adding that there are significant price differences between certain prescription drugs, and in some cases, consumers in New York saved as much as $85 for medication by using that state's registry Web site.

Sy Larson, the president of the New Jersey State Office of the AARP, which lobbied more than a year for the state's registry, said the legislation allows seniors to make informed decisions. He also said the law will have a secondary effect as pharmacies in direct competition lower their prices to meet that competition.

"It's a great step in the right direction," said Robert Green, 73, of East Brunswick, "but I don't think it's the total answer."

Green, who along with his wife delivers meals from the senior center to local seniors, said that, while it's great that seniors can comparison shop for the lowest prices on medications, "it doesn't really help them pay for their prescriptions."

"I pay close to $1,000 a month and I have drug coverage. That's just my co-pay," Green said. He said he is looking forward to going online and shopping for lower-priced drugs in the registry.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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