NorthJersey.com

Prescription Drug Prices To Be Posted

The Bergen Record (NorthJersey.com) — Tuesday, August 22, 2006

By BOB GROVES
STAFF WRITER

Declaring that "shopping around is an important thing to do," Governor Corzine on Monday signed a law that requires pharmacists to report their prescription drug prices to the state, which will then post those prices on the Internet.

The New Jersey Prescription Drug Retail Price Registry will provide cost information, updated at least weekly, on the 150 most frequently prescribed drugs sold by approximately 600 pharmacies statewide.

The law also calls for the drug prices – indexed by name, dosage and ZIP code – to be available on a Web site and a toll-free hot line in English and Spanish. This will enable consumers to comparison shop and bargain hunt for the lowest prices on prescription medications. The information will also be posted at pharmacies.

Corzine said the program will be especially beneficial for seniors, the uninsured and people whose federal Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage temporarily lapses in the supplement gap known as the "doughnut hole."

"This will make a difference" in people's lives, Corzine said at a news conference at the East Brunswick Senior Center that was attended by 200 people, including legislators and members of the New Jersey Citizen Action advocacy group and AARP.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to make prices transparent," the governor said, adding that the registry will help lower prescription costs by increasing competition among pharmacies.

The prescription drug law is scheduled take effect within 180 days, though it could take three months to a year to become operational, some legislators said. It requires pharmacists to report their retail drug prices to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the state pharmacy board and will enforce the new law.

A similar online registry in New York State saved consumers an average of $17 per prescription, according to the Kaiser Foundation Health Policy Report.

There are 1.3 million people in New Jersey without health insurance, and a third of New Jerseyans 65 and older do not have drug coverage, said state Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, a co-sponsor of the bill.

"Price transparency is particularly vital when we now know there are wide variations in cost of prescription drugs," Buono said.

Prescription drug prices vary as much as 20 percent among pharmacies in the state, according to a recent study by the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute. It found, for example, that one pharmacy sold the cholesterol drug Lipitor for nearly $100, while another sold the same drug for about $80.

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Englewood, said the program will benefit everyone, but particularly those least able to afford prescription drugs.

"This means socially needy people will be able to do a comparison of costs and make intelligent choices," said Johnson, another co-sponsor.

Several seniors who attended the event welcomed the prescription pricing program.

"This will be perfect for me," said Mary Ellen Marino of Princeton, whose drugs to treat thyroid and osteoporosis cost her up to $300 a month on Medicare Plan D.

"I'll hit the 'doughnut hole' [in her Medicare coverage] in October," said Marino, 66, a former state worker and head of the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness.

Dr. Mildred Rust, 78, of East Brunswick pays as much as $500 a month for 12 prescription drugs she takes for breast cancer, Parkinson's disease, high cholesterol, thyroid and other ailments.

"It sounds like very good legislation," said Rust, a retired psychiatrist who is "past the 'doughnut hole' and into 'catastrophic' " Medicare Part D assistance. "In a way, it's just as good it doesn't take effect for a few months, because I'll need it at the beginning of next year."

But Marilyn and Leon Wiener, who ran a pharmacy in Iselin for more than 35 years, said the new prescription pricing program will benefit chain drugstores and hurt independent pharmacists.

"For the people who have no [prescription insurance] plan, it will be good," said Marilyn Wiener, 77. "But for the independent, it's a little unfair. The chains will outbid them because they can.

"What's good for the goose is not always good for the gander," she said.

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