A North Dakota news site reports that drug prices are under the microscope in the state as legislators consider repealing a law that prevents most chain pharmacies from competing there. The law requires pharmacies to be majority-owned by North Dakota licensed pharmacists.
Supporters of repeal argue that allowing the big retailers to offer prescription drugs will encourage price competition and result in lower costs for consumers. To test this, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead “took the five most common prescription drugs in North Dakota and compared their prices at four area pharmacies — two in North Dakota and two in Minnesota.”
The results showed that North Dakotans weren’t paying more for these drugs than Minnesotans, after all. However, there was something striking about the survey. It revealed huge, seemingly random variation in pricing for top-selling drugs. The location of the pharmacy was not a factor in these variations.
For example, some pharmacies in both states sold the cholesterol drug Simvastatin (Simvastatin 20mg, 30 count) for less than $20, whereas a North Dakota CVS was selling the same medication (same dosage, same quantity) for $54.59.
The reality is that large chains can help with the prices of some generics — the Wal-Mart $4 drug program has been matched by an increasing number of competitors — but there is still little real price competition for the vast majority of prescription drugs, whether or not national chains are part of the mix.
There are two main reasons for this:
- Pharmaceutical companies have patents that give them virtual monopolies on the sale of brand-name drugs in the United States, allowing them to charge distributors whatever they wish.
- Pharmacies are not transparent in sharing their prices on most drugs with consumers — meaning it is difficult to comparison shop, a fact that results in inefficient, inflated pricing.
For both these reasons, eDrugSearch.com is the better option — particularly for the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance.143