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I-Team Special Report: Drug Dilemma, Part I

Updated: Friday, May 2, 2014 |
I-Team Special Report: Drug Dilemma, Part I story image
WEST MICHIGAN (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Do you price shop for prescription medicine?

The Newschannel 3 I-Team investigated a drug dilemma.

We found large price differences for presciption drugs, but we also learned focusing too much on the lowest price can be dangerous.

Kalamazoo resident Marva Golden lined up twelve different prescriptoin medications she needs on her kitchen counter.

She told us she can spend up to $500 a month on medicine.

Golden lives on a fixed income because she is retired, so she checks prices to save.

"I keep wondering if there's another store I might go to that's cheaper than the one I'm shopping at,"she said.

There is plenty of incentive for Marva Golden to price shop.

Newschannel 3 contacted 40 pharmacies across West Michigan and found big price differences.

We price compared a one month supply of generic Plavix, a popular blood thinning medication.  The highest price was $248,  the lowest just $5.

We also checked prices for a one month supply of generic Singulair, a popular asthma medication.

The highest price was $203, the lowest $8.

So why are prices all over the map?

"The fault is so hard to pinpoint because everything is so intentionally opaque. There's no transparency in any of these pricings," said Jim Middleton, the Director of Pharmacy for Western Michigan University.

Middleton at least partly blames prices on something he calls a usual and customary charge, so that businesses can get the most from insurance companies.

Middleton says that usual and customary charge is still in place for individuals paying for prescriptions using cash.

But when we pointed out to expert after expert that prescription drug users have incentive to shop around, they all said be careful, you could be putting your health in danger.

"Pharmacy isn't a commodity, it's not like your milk and eggs.", Said Sheryl Kirby, owner of Fred's Pharmacy in Three Rivers.

Experts say if you are taking multiple medications, you should get them all at one pharmacy.

That is so pharmacists can keep track of what you are taking.

"The concern is if you go to multiple pharmacies, that we do not know what the other pharmacies are doing, there can be severe drug interactions", said Kirby.

However, some prescription users such as Marva Golden do not think they can afford to only go to one pharmacy.

"Sometimes I just take the risk," said Golden, "hoping that it is the right medications, that it is going to do what it is supposed to do."

The price checks we did for pharmacies were based on a cash purchase.

Prices will be different if you have insurance, and then vary based on the quality of that insurance.

Also, there are programs to help lower prices, be sure to ask your pharmacist, to make sure you're not paying more than is necessary.

There is a website called good r-x that can help you find the lowest prescription prices where you live, we've linked it to our website. Just click here.
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