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Schumer Urges New Drug Shopper Website That Could Save Nyers Millions By Revealing Wide Disparities Between Drug Stores' Prices

New Schumer law would require listing drug prices online by zip code; successful Maryland system shows differences of 33% Website would save New Yorkers thousands a year on drugs - far more than the new Federal drug cards that start tomorrow

As seniors worry that new Medicare Drug Cards will not come close to expectations, Schumer-proposed would use data already being collected by gover

US Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that New Yorkers could quickly and easily comparisonshop for the best prices for prescription drugs at various neighborhood pharmacies on a website without leaving their homes, if only government Medicaid data already being collected were compiled and put online. The State of Maryland already has a website like this up and running, and a new Schumer analysis finds a similar program could save New Yorkers millions, with individuals and families saving hundreds or thousands of dollars on drug costs each year.

There are mounting concerns that the new Medicare drug cards due out tomorrow will not save seniors money because they will lock seniors into a single plan for a year even though drug prices on that plan can fluctuate widely every month. But if New York and other states had website like Maryland's, consumers could avoid the cards' pitfalls and save even more money than the cards offer by just comparisonshopping.

"It was General George Washington who nicknamed Maryland 'The Old Line State' during the Revolutionary War," Schumer said. "Maybe now we should call Maryland The Online State because they have this great website that gives residents drug prices at drugstores statewide. The crazy thing is the government already collects similar data in New York, we just have to follow their lead and put it on the internet."

One month ago, the Maryland State Government launched "The Drug Price Finder," a new interactive website to that lets consumers find the retail prices each pharmacy in the state charges for 25 of the most commonlyused prescription drugs. Three other states Arizona, Maine, and New Mexico offer similar online options based on surveys, but Maryland's is the most innovative because it provides the price data, updated every month, without creating additional paperwork, bureaucracy, or government surveys. The Maryland service uses pricing data from pharmacies' Medicaid reimbursement requests the form that drug stores already have to file to get a government reimbursement for medicine purchased through the Medicaid program. Maryland store managers have to provide the regular, retail cost of that medication to get their money from the state, and New York and most other states already collect similar data on their paperwork.

New York State has also had a law on the books since last September requiring pharmacies to print price lists of 150 commonlyprescribed medicines and give them away for free. But because there is no centralized data collection, customers must still go from store to store to get the price data. And a survey by the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) found 32 percent of the pharmacies they visited didn't have the lists ready and 40 percent didn't have the required signs posted to indicate that the lists are provided at all.

Schumer today demonstrated the ease with which Maryland consumers can comparisonshop for medication using "The Drug Price Finder", showing that a Baltimore resident could find significant savings on a month's supply of popular medications:

Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) which is used to treat sleeping disorders, ranging from a price of $99.58 to $113.03 for thirty 30milligram pills, an annual savings of 14% or $161.40;

Fosamax (alendronate sodium) which is used to treat osteoporosis (bone weakening) in postmenopausal women ranging from a price of $76.13 to $89.99 for four 70milligram pills, an annual savings of 18% or $166.32;

Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium) which Schumer and thousands of other New Yorkers take to reduce cholesterol, ranging from a price of $81.99 to $97.45 for thirty 10milligram pills, an annual savings of 19% of $185.52;

Pravachol (pravastatin sodium), which is another cholesterol drug, ranging from a price of $130.59 to $172.99 for thirty 40milligram pills, an annual savings of 32.5% or $508.80;

Prevacid (lansoprazole), an acidreducer used to treat ulcers and chronic heartburn, ranging from a price of $150.04 to 171.99 for thirty 30milligram pills, an annual savings of 15% or $263.40.

Using the "The Drug Price Finder,"Maryland's Attorney General found price variations in excess of $100 for a 30day supply of a single drug.

While the Federal government operates a website that gives some local drug price information, the existing system only works for participants in the Medicare Drug Discount Card programs that officially begin on Tuesday. But from the start, that Federal website has been criticized by seniors and by the card companies themselves because it is riddled with incorrect prices. Individual card program operators blame the government for the mistakes and the government blames the card companies.

The Medicare Drug Discount Card program itself has been widely criticized, because the program's rules may prevent seniors from selecting the card with the best prices for their drugs at any given time. The discounts available through the cards can change as often as every week, but seniors are locked into card choices for an entire year, so the cards they lock into may not help them if the prices for their medications change. The drug card program's complexity makes it difficult to navigate and near impossible to make an informed choice.

Experts like the Medicare Rights Center have warned seniors that the discount cards do not offer as much savings as other available alternatives, and the cards may deter people from exploring ways like comparison shopping to get the best prices for their drugs. And, obviously, Schumer's Drug Price Finder could be used by all New Yorkers looking for better prescription drug prices, not just those on Medicare.

Schumer today said when Congress returns to Washington after the Memorial Day Recess, he will introduce legislation to require that states collect the retail price data for prescription drugs on their existing Medicaid reimbursement forms and make that information available so the public can comparisonshop for savings.

"No new bureaucracy, no new forms to fill out the Drug Price Finder is just a great new source of prescription cost information for consumers. Like the old song says, 'you better shop around' and the Drug Price Finder lets you do that without leaving the comfort of your home," Schumer said.

In April, Schumer released a survey showing that recent drug company price hikes had already more than cancelled out any savings that New York seniors will get from the new Medicare prescription drug cards. Schumer found that New York seniors will actually have to pay more for the medicine they need after they get their cards than they did before the Administration first proposed changes to Medicare, because prices for commonlyprescribed drugs in New York City and Long Island were up between 18% and 28%.