Philadelphia Inquirer

N.J. Web Site For Drug Costs Approved

The state will let residents compare pharmacies in a bid to reduce prescription prices by increasing competition

The Philadelphia Inquirer — Tuesday, August 22, 2006

By Tom Hester Jr.
Associated Press

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Gov. Corzine yesterday signed into law a bill that will let residents compare prescription prices on a state Web site.

The site, expected to be ready this fall, would list pharmacy-by-pharmacy retail prices for the 150 most frequently prescribed drugs. Consumers would search prices by zip code.

Consumers without Internet access could call a toll-free number for the information.

"This makes sense. This is fundamental," Corzine said as he signed the bill at an East Brunswick senior center.

To update the registry, pharmacies must report prices to the state Department of Health and Senior Services weekly.

The increased competition should reduce prices, said Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D., Middlesex), a bill sponsor.

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

"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 State Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex), another bill sponsor. "They should not have to travel from pharmacy to pharmacy to do that."

The industry is pleased that the law requires the state, not pharmacies, to gather the price information, said John Holub of the New Jersey Council of Chain Drug Stores.

The New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute has reported finding an average difference of $47 in drug prices at chain drugstores in Mercer County.

New Jersey follows New York, Maryland, Illinois and Florida in creating such a site.

New York's Web site, www.nyagrx.org, showed wide price ranges for common drugs. For instance, Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medication, cost $64 to $136 for 30 pills, and the allergy drug Zyrtec cost $55 to $409 for 30 doses. New York officials say the site has helped consumers save $17, on average, per prescription.

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 East Brunswick resident, adding that she feared someday she wouldn't be able to afford her medications.

Hatcher gets drugs through Medicare but struggles when she has to cover part of their cost herself. "I need most of them to live," she said.

New Jersey Citizen Action, a consumer advocacy group, has said that 20 percent of uninsured New Jerseyans require at least one prescription drug, with 65,000 of them requiring four.

An estimated $322,000 will be needed to create the Web site and an estimated $72,000 a year to run it.

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