WASHINGTON - September 27 - A new report released today found that seniors using Medicare drug discount cards are paying considerably more for 49 of the top-50 most frequently prescribed drugs than they would through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The median price difference for the 50 drugs was $220.44.
The report, released by the consumer health organization Families USA, found that, for half of the top-50 drugs, the lowest Medicare discount card price is at least 58.2 percent higher than the best available VA price.
The Families USA report was issued at a time when many conservatives and liberals are concerned about the expense of the new Medicare drug program. A key controversial feature of the legislation that created the new program prohibits Medicare from bargaining for cheaper drug prices like the VA already does.
“The best way to make medicines affordable for seniors is to allow Medicare to negotiate for better prices directly with drug companies, the way the VA successfully does,” said Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA. “The continued prohibition against such bargaining will not only hurt seniors, but it will also fleece the American taxpayer.”
This study about the temporary Medicare drug discount card program provides the best current forecast of the drug prices we will see in the new drug benefit program. It shows that, despite the cost-savings promises made by the Bush Administration and congressional leaders when the new Medicare law was enacted, the Medicare discount cards routinely failed to result in drug prices as low as the VA.
For the five drugs most frequently prescribed for seniors, the report found that the best price under the Medicare drug discount card is considerably higher than the best VA price:
* For Plavix (75 mg.), a blood-clot reducing agent that is the most heavily prescribed medication for seniors, the best VA price is $887.16 per year, compared to the best Medicare drug discount price of $1,230.36—a difference of $343.20, or 38.7 percent.
* For Lipitor (10 mg.), a cholesterol-lowering agent that is the second most heavily prescribed medication, the annual VA price is $498.84, compared to $730.56 under the Medicare discount cards—a difference of $231.72, or 46.5 percent.
* For Fosamax (70 mg.), an osteoporosis drug that is the third most heavily prescribed medication for seniors, the annual VA price is $493.32, compared to $650.52 under the Medicare discount cards—a difference of $157.20, or 31.9 percent.
* For Norvasc (5 mg.), a high-blood pressure treatment that is the fourth most heavily prescribed medication for seniors, the annual VA price is $301.68, compared to $467.042 under the Medicare discount cards—a difference of $165.36, or 54.8 percent.
* For Protonix (40 mg.), a stomach acid blocking agent that is the fifth most heavily prescribed medication for seniors, the annual VA price is $253.32, compared to $827.40 under the Medicare discount cards—a difference of $574.08, or 226.6 percent.
For the two most expensive drugs prescribed to seniors under the discount card program in the top-50 list, the report found that the best price under the Medicare drug discount card is considerably higher than the best VA price:
* For Aricept (10 mg.), an Alzheimer’s treatment that is the most expensive of the top-50 drugs prescribed for seniors, the annual VA price is $1,056.84, compared to $1,453.92 under the Medicare discount cards—a difference of $397.08, or 37.6 percent.
* For Pravachol (40 mg.), a cholesterol-lowering agent that is the second most expensive of the top-50 drugs, the annual VA price is $470.40, compared to $1,240.44 under the Medicare discount cards—a difference of $770.04, or 163.7 percent.
“A big reason why the new Medicare program is so costly is because Congress and the President chose to support the pharmaceutical lobby over the interests of America’s seniors and taxpayers,” said Pollack. “At a time when drug costs continue to skyrocket and the federal budget is in deep deficit, this needs to change.”
The Families USA report was based on a comparison of the Medicare discount card prices for the 50 drugs most frequently used by seniors with the prices the VA negotiates for those same drugs. The list of the 50 drugs most frequently prescribed to seniors is based on the drugs most frequently prescribed in the Pennsylvania Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly (PACE) program. This program is the oldest and largest drug assistance program for seniors in the U.S., with nearly 200,000 enrollees.
Families USA collected all Medicare discount prices for each drug using a zip code for the Cincinnati area, 45206, and the findings are based on the lowest price recorded for each drug. These prices were then compared to the lowest publicly reported prices by the VA. The Medicare drug discount prices are very similar from one locale to another.
For a copy of the report, please visit our web site.