Lower Prescription Drug Prices Possible, Says Nonprofit's Study

Source: Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG)

A MaryPIRG survey shows that, on average, uninsured consumers in Baltimore are charged 81% percent more than the federal government for 12 common prescription medications.
Baltimore, Oct. 21, 2004-Uninsured consumers in Baltimore are charged 81 percent more for prescription drugs than the best available market prices, according to a survey released today by Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG). A coalition of organizations urges Marylanders to form a prescription drug buying pool such as that proposed by Md. Senator Paul Pinsky (Dist. 22) last year.

"It is fundamentally unfair that drug companies are allowed to use near-monopoly powers to gouge American consumers," charged MaryPIRG director Brad Heavner. "People without drug coverage are being forced to subsidize giant pharmaceutical companies with tremendous profit margins."

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., who spoke at a MaryPIRG-organized press conference held at the Sandtown-Winchester Senior Center on October 21, said, "With one million Marylanders lacking insurance coverage, and Americans spending more than $203 billion a year on prescription drugs, it is painfully clear that drug prices are skyrocketing out of control."

Late this summer, MaryPIRG and state PIRGs across the country surveyed nearly 500 pharmacies in 19 states and Washington, DC in order to determine how much more uninsured consumers pay for 12 commonly prescribed medications than the federal government--one of the pharmaceutical industry's "most favored" customers.

Among the report's findings:

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, predicted that a coalition working on these disparities "will succeed during the 2005 Maryland General Assembly session in enacting strong measures to reduce prescription drug prices in our state."

Nationally, uninsured Americans pay 78 percent more on average for 12 common prescription medications than the federal government. The price differences ranged from 41 percent more for Ambien to 162 percent more for Synthroid.

Many of the drugs featured in the PIRG survey treat chronic conditions,meaning that even small savings add up quickly. An uninsured person regularly taking Allegra to control their allergies, for example, would pay on average $1,120 for a year's supply of Allegra. The government, on the other hand, would pay only $657 for the same quantity of Allegra--a savings of $463.

At the federal level, the groups involved in the study urged Congress to pass the Dorgan-Snowe bill to legalize prescription drug importation from pharmacies in Canada and other countries with regulatory systems similar to the US.

At the state level, the groups urged the General Assembly to establish a prescription drug buying pool that allows businesses, state agencies and uninsured individuals to use their combined buying power to negotiate lower drug prices. A similar program is currently being implemented in Maine.

MaryPIRG, comprised of attorneys, scientists, and other professionals, advocates on the public's behalf on issues concerning environmental protection, consumer rights, and the democratic process. For information, call (410) 467-0439.

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This story was published on October 21, 2004.