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Archive for Friday, April 30, 2004

Medicare posts drug cost outlooks

Some prices with discount card still a third higher than in Canada

April 30, 2004

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— Prices for Lipitor, Celebrex and other popular brand-name medicines offered by Medicare's new drug discount cards are no better than those that consumers can find, without discounts, from online pharmacies. The drugs are cheaper still in Canada.

Medicare began posting drug prices on its Web site Thursday, allowing people to compare the new Medicare-approved discount drug cards and decide which offer the best prices.

Mark McClellan, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said consumers could find "significant price reductions off typical retail prices." Democrats said the savings claimed by the administration would be eaten up by drug price increases that far outpace inflation.

About half of the 40 national and 32 regional cards were included in the initial listing of prescription drug prices. Medicare said it would update the site every Monday. The same information can be obtained by calling (800) Medicare.

Enrollment begins next week and the cards, which cost up to $30, take effect in June. Low-income Medicare beneficiaries can get a free card and $600 from the government to pay for prescriptions.

It is the first time the government has made available drug pricing information at individual pharmacies and mail-order operations across the country. Sponsors of the drug cards agreed to make the information available to participate in the discount drug card program.

But while the Bush administration was touting the savings offered by the new cards, the best prices on the Medicare Web site also were available Thursday at such online pharmacies as Washington state-based drugstore.com.

The Medicare prices also were a bit higher than those charged by Canadian pharmacies that state and local governments are beginning to link up with on behalf of their employees, retirees and residents.

The best Medicare mail order prices for three best-selling brand name drugs -- the arthritis drug Celebrex, the osteoporosis drug Fosamax and cholesterol-lowering Lipitor -- were at least a third higher than prices at the three Canadian pharmacies listed on the state of Wisconsin's online prescription drug resource center.

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