New Yorkers might be paying drastically more for their prescriptions depending on the pharmacy they use, according to a recent survey of government data.
The New York Public Interest Research Group reviewed prices for six of the most frequently prescribed medicines using a website the state Health Department mandated back in 2006. The website, at apps.health.ny.gov, allows consumers to comparison shop for the most frequently prescribed medicines by zip code, county or city in order to find the best price. For the over 1 million consumers who lack adequate or any coverage for prescription drugs, the website could yield considerable savings.
The interest group found in its survey that consumers could be paying as much as $200 more for the same prescription in the same region.
At Jefferson County chain pharmacies, as an example, Advair Diskus, typically used to treat asthma, ranged from a high of $614.97 to a low of $451.99 — a difference of $162.98.
For the name-brand places, pharmacists are not given any type of wiggle room on the price of prescriptions, according to Justin M. Besaw, owner of locally owned Bonaparte Pharmacy in Harrisville. While Mr. Besaw views his stores’ prices as the fairest, he said the public is constantly led toward chains.
“Independent pharmacies are done much different,” he said. “I treat every one of my customers differently depending on their situation, but even though we are the ones with the best prices, people assume we have to be more expensive because we are smaller.”
Previously a pharmacist with Kinney Drugs for 20 years, Mr. Besaw said he ended up starting his own store partially because of the sky-rocketing prices. On average, he is charging $80 to $100 less than the competitor, but other pharmacists don’t have that luxury because they don’t know what the company is paying for the product.
“They are robotically checking prescriptions and bar codes. They don’t have a way to change those prices because they aren’t allowed to, and even if they were, they aren’t going to,” he said.
Bolton’s Pharmacy Operations Manager Melissa A. Farman agreed with Mr. Besaw that independent pharmacies are the cheapest option. She said Bolton’s works to negotiate with wholesalers constantly in order to get the best price.
Compared to the area’s lowest price of Advair Diskus in chain stores at $451.99, located at Target’s CVS Pharmacy in Watertown, Bonaparte’s price is roughly $395, depending on the customer. Bolton’s, however, was higher at $472.72.
“This all depends on the distributors the pharmacy uses,” Ms. Farman said.
With the help of the state’s website, New York Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Blair Horner said consumers can navigate the area’s prescription prices. The same law for the website requires that at the checkout area of each pharmacy, a written notice must be provided informing consumers about the website itself. Unfortunately, only 12 of the 29 pharmacies surveyed had these postings.
“It’s not like going to the grocery store and going up and down the aisles to comparison shop and you’re not going to drive from pharmacy to pharmacy to do this, so this really is a helpful tool,” he said. “Now, of course, this only works if people know that it exists.”
In the report’s conclusion, it urged the New York State Department of Education to audit local pharmacies to ensure compliance with signage requirements.
Additionally, the nonprofit consumer group said the state should review the website to identify pharmacies that appear to be charging unusually high prices.
Mr. Besaw said he doesn’t see chains making a change anytime soon.
“(The chain pharmacies) probably could change the prices and still be profitable, but they won’t,” he said.
What is the cash price of Advair Diskus, strength 250/50?
n Bonaparte Pharmacy: $395.00
n Kinney Drugs: $456.85
n Walmart: $471.46
n Bolton’s Pharmacy: $472.72
n Price Chopper: $614.97
n Target: $451.99
n Walgreens: “Not allowed to give out that information at the store level.”