- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Arnold Lear has found his own way to cut the escalating drug costs that have Washington lawmakers flummoxed: Before taking his prescriptions into a pharmacy to be filled, he shops around for the best prices.
For example, Mr. Lear, 79 of Potomac, resident buys Fosamax, a medicine used to treat osteoporosis, from a nearby Costco pharmacy because it costs 8 percent to 10 percent less than it would if he bought it through the pharmacy at one of the major supermarket or drugstore chains.
"It pays to check out what the other guy charges," Mr. Lear said.
Seniors may be looking in the wrong place when they ask the White House and Congress to lower prescription-drug prices, according to a new report from the 60 Plus Association, an Arlington advocacy group for the elderly.
The elderly can cut their costs if they shop around for better prices, the report concludes.
The association surveyed 111 pharmacies in Florida, Missouri and New Hampshire. It found that prices fluctuated as much as 856 percent for generic drugs and as much as 175 percent for brand-name drugs.
For example, the association found a Miami pharmacy that charged $34.49 for a 30-day supply of Fosamax. Another pharmacy in the same city charged $95, a 173 percent difference.
"In essence, it comes down to buyer beware," said Ed Fulginiti, the association's spokesman.
The average price difference for brand-name medicine was $19.60 to $50.04 across the three states, the survey found. The average price difference for generic medicine was $14.25 to $28.59.
Seniors who prefer brand-name medicine often resort to taking cheaper generic forms of the drug to save money, Mr. Fulginiti said.
"As the study shows, you don't have to assume that generic is the last stop when you are searching for the most affordable medication," he said.
The association bills itself as a "conservative alternative" to AARP, the senior lobby formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons. A statement from the 60 Plus Association said it is funded by more than 1 million donations from about 225,000 supporters and that the average donation is less than $20.
The 60 Plus Association has endorsed privatizing Social Security and eliminating the inheritance tax.
President Bush is considering an overhaul of Medicare that would encourage seniors to join a private health plan to receive prescription-drug benefits. The president is expected to outline his plan in the State of the Union Address tonight.
Democrats have criticized the president's plan, saying it would coerce seniors into joining health maintenance organizations.
An AARP official said his group believes seniors should shop around for the best prescription-drug prices but that a prescription-drug benefit is still needed to help seniors pay for their medicine.
"Shopping around for the best price is a start, but it doesn't replace the need for a prescription-drug benefit," said Kevin Donnellan, AARP director of grass-roots action and elections.
The group began a "check up on your prescription" campaign to urge seniors to comparison shop for drug prices, he said.
In a statement, the 60 Plus Association's president, James L. Martin, said that adding a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare "may be inevitable and the right thing to do. But before Washington creates a costly new program … the politicians should understand that seniors can do much to control costs on their own."
Last week the National Council on the Aging introduced a Web site, www.benefitscheckup.org, to help the elderly more easily identify programs that will save them money on prescription drugs.
Seniors can visit the site to complete an online questionnaire to obtain a personalized report with programs that a person might be eligible and detailed instructions on how to enroll.
The council an umbrella organization for senior centers, adult day care agencies and other groups will send volunteers into neighborhoods to help seniors who are uncomfortable using the Internet or do not have access, said spokesman Scott Parkin.

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