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A start to prescription drug price transparency

Unknown to most consumers, especially those with comprehensive health insurance coverage, is the fact that prescription drug prices can vary wildly from one pharmacy to the next -- even when those pharmacies are just a mile or two apart.

So the price of the generic equivalent to Lipitor, for instance, may cost a consumer $16.23 at an independent Miami drug store in the 33132 zip code, while a well-known national chain pharmacy in the same zip code will sell the same drug for $105.98.

Why the big difference? 

Dr. Ali Khoshnevis, a North Carolina optometrist who has relocated to Miami, where he lived for a year in 2008 while completing a residency in ocular degeneration at the University of Miami's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, says he knows why some pharmacies charge much higher prices than others.

"They do it because they can,'' Khoshnevis said.

The truth is, they also do it because many consumers don't really notice or care.

These consumers are shielded from the true cost because they have comprehensive health insurance plans that charge them only a low copayment for prescription drugs, Khoshnevis said.

So they never really see, or pay, the retail price.

Who does pay the retail price? The poor and uninsured, Khoshnevis said.

To help consumers learn more about the drastic price discrepancies for prescription drugs, Khoshnevis has launched a website, WeRx.org, that draws on crowd sourcing to help consumers find the lowest price for prescription medications in their neighborhood.

The website is still in its infancy, and Khoshnevis said he hopes it will attract enough active users to cause some real change, such as price transparency from pharmacies and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

"The whole drug supply chain, every bit of it, needs to be transparent,'' Khoshnevis said. 


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