Comparison Shopping For Prescription Drugs Coming Soon To NJ

Newsday — Monday, August 21, 2006

Associated Press Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Laura Hatcher speaks with trepidation about the 11 prescription drugs she takes to combat multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

"They're real expensive," said Hatcher, 55, a wheelchair-bound East Brunswick resident who fears she one day she won't be able to afford her medications.

Hatcher gets drugs through Medicare but, like others in need of medication, she struggles when she has to cover part of the cost of the vital prescriptions.

"I need most of them to live," Hatcher said.

Soon, Hatcher and other New Jerseyans in need of prescription medication will be able to comparison shop for less expensive drugs using a state-run Web site whose creation was set in motion Monday.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine visited an East Brunswick senior citizens center to sign into law a bill creating the Web site, which will list pharmacy-by-pharmacy retail prices for the 150 most frequently prescribed drugs.

"This is a great day," Corzine said. "We are actually moving government, moving public policy, in a direction that actually impacts people's lives."

Under the law, the Web site must be up and running within 13 months, but Corzine said it shouldn't take that long.

"As soon as we can get the systems in place, we'll implement it," Corzine said. "I don't even think we have to wait until next year."

Zola Dunn, 82, is among those looking forward to it. She just spent $105 for a prescription ointment that is one of many drugs she needs.

"To me, that's a lot for medication," said Dunn, of Roselle.

The Web site would be designed to easily allow consumers to find the cheapest prescription drugs. Advocates also say prices should drop through increased competition.

"I hope so," Dunn said. "I hope so."

New Jersey follows New York, Maryland, Illinois and Florida in creating such a Web site.

Consumers will be able to log in to the Web site to search drug prices by ZIP code.

For people who don't have Internet access, the registry will be made available in writing to consumers who call a toll-free telephone number.

In a recent study, the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute found an average price difference of $47 in drug prices at chain drug stores in the Mercer County area, and consumer advocate group New Jersey Citizen Action said 20 percent of uninsured New Jerseyans require at least one prescription drug and 65,000 uninsured residents require four prescription drugs.

"Knowledge is power and consumers have the right to make an informed decision by knowing ahead of time what medications cost so they can make a cost comparison," said Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, a leading bill sponsor. "They should not have to travel from pharmacy to pharmacy to do that."

John Holub, of the New Jersey Council of Chain Drug Stores, said the pharmacy industry is pleased the bill signed into law requires the state – not pharmacies – to gather the drug price information.

A check of New York's Web site – – showed wide pricing ranges for common drugs. For instance, Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medication, cost $64 to $136 for 30 pills, while the allergy drug Zyrtec cost $55 to $409 for 30 doses. New York officials say the site has helped consumers save $17 per prescription on average.

"This is long overdue," said Marilyn Wiener, 77, of East Brunswick, who said prescription drug costs push many senior citizens "out on a limb."

It's estimated the state would have to spend $322,000 to create the Web site this year, with the site then costing $72,000 per year to run.

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