The Star-Ledger

A New Tool To Search For Cheapest Medicine

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, August 22, 2006

BY JEFF WHELAN
Star-Ledger Staff

Looking for the best deal on your prescription drugs? The information you need may soon be just a mouse click or phone call away.

Gov. Jon Corzine signed legislation yesterday establishing the New Jersey Prescription Drug Retail Price Registry, which will list the retail prices of the 150 most prescribed drugs from every pharmacy in the state.

The idea is to make it easier for consumers, especially those without insurance coverage or with large co-pays, to shop around for the lowest available price on their medicine.

The state will post the information, in both English and Spanish, on a Web site where consumers will be able to plug in their Zip Code and the name of their prescription drug, and comparison shop. They will also be able to access the information by telephone through a toll-free number.

Corzine, who signed the bill during a ceremony at the East Brunswick Senior Center, cited a recent New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute study that found prices varied by as much as 20 percent among pharmacies. For example, one CVS charged $173.99 for 40 milligrams of Nexium, while the same purchase could have been made for $50 less on RiteAid.com.

A spot-check of prices at several stores by The Star-Ledger yesterday found the cost of a 30-day supply of 20 milligrams of Lipitor was $141 at a CVS in Elizabeth and $94.89 at Lexington Pharmacy in East Brunswick.

"You are talking about big dough. It is something that makes a difference in people's lives," said Corzine, who was joined by lawmakers and AARP members. "There is hardly anything more important than making health care accessible and affordable."

The AARP pushed for the law, which is based on a similar one enacted in New York two years ago. In New York, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, consumers have saved an average $17 per prescription by shopping around and the registry has shown prices can vary by as much as $85 per prescription.

The New Jersey registry is expected to be up and running next year, but Corzine said he would like to see it operating even sooner. "As soon as we can get the systems in place, we'll implement it," Corzine said.

Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) said the bill would be especially helpful to the 1.3 million New Jersey residents who do not have health insurance.

"Knowledge is power, and consumers have the right to make an informed decision," Buono said. "They should not have to travel from pharmacy to pharmacy to do that."

Robert Green, a 73-year-old East Brunswick resident on hand for the event, said it is currently possible to call individual pharmacies to check on prices but "it's expensive and time consuming. They are too busy to talk to you. This makes it much easier." He said he "absolutely" would use the new service.

Marilyn Wiener, a 77-year-old East Brunswick resident, said she takes a drug for osteoporosis that costs $700 per month and which her insurance company will only cover for two years. She said her husband takes seven different medications, and that having new tools to help find cheaper drugs will be helpful.

"This is your life. This isn't buying bananas," she said. "Whatever I'm on, I want to be able to sleep at night."

Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), a co-sponsor of the bill, said she hoped the registry would bring added competition and even drive prices down.

John Holub, executive director of the New Jersey Council on Chain Drug stores, was skeptical of that. He said "more information for the consumers is a good thing." But he questioned how much of an impact the registry would have, and said the bulk of the cost of prescriptions is set by manufacturers.

"People need to realize that the pharmacy itself is a very small fraction of the cost of the drug," he said. "This is really going to help people paying cash for their drugs."

Staff writer Susan K. Livio contributed to this report.

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