Asbury Park Press

Drug Prices To Be Posted Online Under New N.J. Law

Asbury Park Press — Tuesday, August 22, 2006

BY CARMEN CUSIDO
GANNETT NEW JERSEY

EAST BRUNSWICK — Gov. Corzine signed the New Jersey Prescription Drug Retail Price Registry bill into law Monday. It will allow consumers to comparison-shop for the lowest prices on the 150 most commonly used prescription medications.

Drug customers will be able to log on to a Web site to see the registry, or call a toll-free hotline to find the lowest prices for their medications at pharmacies in their ZIP codes.

The law takes effect in 90 days, and the Web site must be up and running within 13 months, but Corzine said it could be operating by the end of this year.

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.

Recognizing that older people will be the law's biggest beneficiaries, members of the AARP and New Jersey Citizen Action were at the township's Senior Center for the bill-signing ceremony.

Joan Saldana, 67, of East Brunswick, who said she spends about $600 to $800 a month on six prescriptions, said the new legislation "is great for people that really need it."

"With prescription drugs being so costly, this is a lifesaver for senior citizens," Saldana said.

The Web site will be set up 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 and $72,000 per year to maintain it.

Corzine said the bill makes health care affordable and accessible to people.

State Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, said there are 1.3 million New Jerseyans without health insurance, and a 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 that found prices on prescription medications varied by as much as 20 percent among pharmacies.

She said the model for the registry was a similar online registry in New York state, 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.

Sy Larson, president of the New Jersey State Office of the AARP, which lobbied for 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 of pharmacies in direct competition lowering their prices.

"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 copay," Green said. He said he is looking forward to going online and shopping for lower-price drugs in the registry.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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