Pill Pricing Controversy - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

11/21/02

Pill Pricing Controversy

Lubbock's Pharmacy Price Comparison Chart -View prices from around town.

NewsChannel 11's Cecelia Coy has spent weeks probing the pricing strategies at Lubbock pharmacies. Her investigation centers on generic drugs, the ones that most of us believe save us money. What did she find? Mark-ups as high as 3,500%, and that's costing you. Why are the mark-ups so high on drugs that are supposed to be a cost savings?

NewsChannel 11 tapped into information pharmacists don't want you to know. It's a fine line between surviving as a business, or could there be potential price gouging on generic drugs? How much is too much? After reading this, you'll decide. You might even change where you shop for your prescription drugs.

Lubbock pharmacies charge different prices all over town for the same generic drug, and it's something consumer Jane Griffiths already knows. But what she didn't know was the drastic difference.

"I mean here is one where you can purchase three different places for $62.69, and you can get the same thing at five more places for $12 and something," said Jane, after NewsChannel 11 showed her our price comparison chart .

We also probed the pricing of eight generic drugs at 28 local pharmacies, big and small, from chains to the mom and pops.

Vasotec is often prescribed to treat high blood pressure and heart problems. It typically costs $82 for a one month supply. The generic version is Enalapril. Its cost varies widely:

 

 

Raff and Hall Pharmacy

I-27

$57

Wal-Mart

All Locations

$27

Caprock Pharmacy

50th Street

$17

Pepcid is a popular drug used to treat heartburn and can cost over $100. It has the generic, Famotidine. Look at these costs:

Medical Pharmacy

22nd Street

$121

K-Mart

University

$42

United Pharmacies

All Locations

$15

Texas Tech pharmacy practice professor Charles Seifert says pharmacy prices vary depending on the wholesaler's price, how much is bought, and the brand of generic.

"Depending on how good of a deal they can get for that drug then they will mark it up accordingly," said Seifert.

Here's how it works. Pharmacies save you money by recommending the generic version. Instead of spending $92 for a one month supply of the brand name Zantac, wouldn't you be happy if someone behind the pharmacy counter suggested you buy the generic, Ranitidine, for $53? Not bad, you just saved $39.

But what the pharmacist didn't tell you -- the generic he sold you for $53 has a wholesale cost of $2.22. That's a 1,700% mark-up. So, why is the mark-up so high?

"I think one of the reasons why the pharmacies are marking up drugs is because the only way we make money is by selling a product," said Seifert.

In fairness, pharmacies are entitled to make a profit so they can stay in business. Caprock pharmacist Tony Jones agrees. Jones says that his profits help run his business and pay his employees. He also says the insurance companies control how pharmacists price their generics.

"And we are told how to charge the customer, so 80% of our business, the pricing of that drug, is completely out of our hands. So, then it comes back to becoming a dilemma for us," said Jones.

"I know they have a business to run. I know it," Jane said.

Jane is widowed and lives with her daughter. She has had two heart surgeries and continues to have heart problems. Prescription drugs is the only way she survives. Jane lives on a fixed income and has to take $5,000 worth of pills a year, and she pays most of that out of her own pocket because Medicare doesn't cover the cost.

"I'm just shocked that the differences in prices here. As a person who takes as many medications as I do, I should be able to go to one place and get all my medications and know that it's a good price," said Jane.

Pharmacist Jones encourages consumers to always look for the better deal.

"If they find a price they are pleased with, well then, they should contact the pharmacy they do business with and see if they can come up with something that is equally beneficial to both of them," Jones suggested.

But for patients like Jane who takes around 30 pills daily, shopping around is almost impossible.

"If I picked out the cheapest place on all my drugs, I'd be running all over town," she said.

In this NewsChannel 11 investigation, we found prices vary widely. But overall, which pharmacy has the overall highest prices? Covenant Medical Pharmacy.

Covenant pharmacy manager Vicki Jobe says it is because they are a pediatrics pharmacy.

"You have highlighted adult drugs, and I don't purchase many of those and what I do is purchase in small quantities, 100 to 60 count bottles. Because they'll sit here and go out-of-date before I use them?" says Jobe.

So, who has the best prices in town? United Supermarkets.

While Albertsons sells generic Prozac for $62, United has theirs priced under $20.

Suprising to us, chain store pharmacies like Walgreens and Eckerds, who buy in bulk, have some pretty high prices for the generic drugs we checked. Sources say that some pharmacies jack up the price because of nearby affluent neighborhoods. So, buyer beware of costs, and it won't hurt to shop around.

Lubbock's Pharmacy Price Comparison Chart -View prices from around town.

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