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Drug prices vary by store; be your own advocate - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Drug prices vary by store; be your own advocate

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SHREVEPORT, La -

 "It's like somebody is literally arbitrarily going well let's charge $600 for this, let's charge $200 for this, like there is no rhyme or reason."

Chris Mott is a Shreveport resident - who went to fill a prescription for his daughter at an area chain pharmacy.

"My insurance lapsed so that I was without insurance in January… When I brought the prescription to the big chain that I had used for medication all along, she called and asked for my new insurance information and I told her that I didn't have any, that I would be just paying cash for it. She said that's fine but the prescription is $750."

Absolutely shocked at the price, Mott called a locally owned pharmacy to see if it was any different, and was blown away by the answer.

"I explained the situation and said you know if I'm paying cash for this how much is the medication going to cost me and he said literally $11."

Mott's experience isn't unique—at all.  Different pharmacies carry the same drugs at different prices, and sometimes the range can be startling.   We did our own research to see just how much of a disparity there is.  We called six different pharmacies about the generic version of three commonly used drugs - Plavix, Protonix, and Lipitor.

Here's how the numbers break down from pharmacy to pharmacy:

Generic Plavix

$161.29 at Walgreens

$150 at CVS

$130.04 at Rite Aid

$44.86 at Kroger Pharmacy

$30.10 at Walmart

$19.72 at Boudreaux's Pharmacy

Generic Protonix

$106.99 at Walgreens

$ $103 at CVS

$84.99 at Rite Aid

$82.72 at Kroger Pharmacy

$68.42 at Walmart

$19.19 at Boudreaux's Pharmacy

Generic Lipitor

$147.99 at Walgreens

$146 at CVS

$134.29 at Rite Aid

$63.89 at Kroger Pharmacy

$30.10 at Walmart

$20.03 Boudreaux's Pharmacy

Now these prices are assuming you don't have insurance, a coupon, and are not part of the many drug member programs offered at pharmacies.  As we learned, prices vary, even for the generic form of the drug. And one might think the big chains are able to offer prescription drugs for less, but that's not the case. 

"I can only speculate how the chains come up with their prices but I'm assuming that they do a national pricing structure," says Doug Boudreaux of Boudreaux's Specialty Compounding Pharmacy in Shreveport.  "So what you pay for here in Shreveport is the same thing they're paying for in California and New York.  So I think the prices might be a lot higher.  I know the chain pharmacists are unable to adjust the prices in the computer. But we are…We have two pricing systems in our pharmacy here.  The first price is what the computer tells us to charge, and the second price is what the patient can afford.  Generally we go on a cost plus basis.  So whatever the medicine cost us, we just add a certain dollar amount to it.

But why is it that prices vary so much?

"Health care is shrouded in secrecy, the cost of pills, procedures, hospitalizations, doctor visits; it's like buying a ticket to Los Angeles, getting off the airplane, and finding out how much it costs."  Dr. Terry Davis is a Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at LSU Health Shreveport.   She says there is price variability not just among drug stores, but hospitals, insurance companies, and physician procedures and tests.

"The main thing is we don't have one health care system.   As the head of Cleveland clinic said, we have cottage industries.  So drug stores can charge what they want, hospitals can charge what they want."

And as many of us have experienced, those prices can be very expensive.

And when drug prices skyrocket, some people stop buying them altogether.  In 2013, the CDC came out with a study saying nearly 13% of adults aged 18-64 don't take their medication as prescribed to save cost. And nearly a quarter of uninsured Americans do the same—something both Boudreaux and Dr. Davis say is a problem here in the Ark-la-tex.

"About 40% or our patients are uninsured and so another 60% are probably Medicaid and Medicare and so the doctors up here deal with that everyday," she says. "And they'll take medicine every other day to try and stretch it out.  Or if you have to choose between food and gas and medicine, and the medicine is for hypertension or diabetes and you can't feel the difference in the medicine, it might be easy to put the money on the food."

To find the most affordable option, Davis says patients must act as consumers when it comes to buying prescription drugs. 

"People are going to have to become more engaged, and ask more questions.  How much does this cost?  What is the value of this particular drug, where can I get it at the lowest possible price?  Do I need this brand new drug or would and older drug be just as valuable for my health problem? And so I think people are going to have to become more and more engaged and I think doctors are going to have to become more engaged in knowing the prices of things."

There are options available for people who still can't afford their prescription drugs.  Boudreaux says there is something called the North Louisiana Interfaith Pharmacy, which offers life sustaining medicines for those that have no other access to free medicines on a first-come first-serve basis to needy residents.  It serves ten northwest Louisiana parishes.  Dr. Davis says both LSU Shreveport and Martin Luther King Health Center works with patients to get the prescriptions they need.

There are resources available online to help patients navigate store prices.

GoodRX.com is a helpful site, although to be sure a price is accurate, it's always best to call the pharmacy directly. 

 

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