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Dr. Zorba Paster: Question prices for prescriptions

Mon., March 20, 2017, 3:57 p.m.

Dear Doc: You’ve been harping on overcharging for drugs by pharmacies, so let me chime in with an experience I had. A very poor guy who helped me around the farm developed a rash that looked to me like Lyme disease. But what do I know?

My good doctor friend with a heart of gold told me he’d look at it for no charge. The guy had no insurance, living from hand to mouth. The doc took a look, agreed it was Lyme disease, and off we went with what was supposed to be a $30 antibiotic prescription.

I was happy as a lark until I was ready to pay for it at the pharmacy – they told me it was $105. That’s a lot higher than I thought. It blew my mind.

My first thought was the doc was wrong. What do you guys know about how much prescriptions cost? But my doc friend was adamant that this was not an expensive drug. So I told the clerk that they must be wrong – it was supposed to be $30.

The pharmacist then came over, telling me that if we joined their prescription club for $20 a year, they would reduce my prescription cost to just $15. You have it right: $20 to join the “club” and $15 for the drug, for a total of $35.

Now, was I upset? You bet I was. Why didn’t they tell me this before? I confronted them about this, but their answer did not pass the “sniff” test, if you know what I mean. So I wrote to their headquarters. I wrote them a formal letter, not an email, demanding a response.

A week later, I got a call from some PR guy who, and I quote, thanked me “for sharing this.” Uh, huh. Really? Thank me for sharing this?

I wanted to share this with as many people as I could, which is why I’m writing to you. – A.N. from Wisconsin

Dear A.N.: Thanks for sharing. The issue here, I think, is “bait and switch.” If they can get you to pay full price, why not do that and make a bigger profit, about $70 more? That sure would pay the overhead, but it also fleeces the customer.

Why do we accept things like this? Why can we compare prices on everything from ketchup to TVs, but we can’t compare prices on drugs?

The answer that I always get is that this is an insurance issue, that some people get a “discount” because of their insurance plan. But this guy did not have any insurance. He was poor and they wanted him to pay full price.

My spin: This is not limited just to this pharmacy, by any means. I have been promoting www.goodrx.com as a way to check on the cost of your prescription drugs, especially if you don’t have a drug plan on your health insurance. They’re a good source of information.

And remember one more thing: If you get to the cash register at the pharmacy and you think the drug costs too much, don’t accept it. Ask them if there is a “plan” to make it cheaper. If they don’t have a way to lower the cost, or if the drug is a brand-name expensive one, tell them to put it back on the shelf.

Don’t just say, “Oh, well. They took the time to fill the prescription, and I don’t want to disappoint them. I can just pay for it.” Do not do that. Call your prescriber and tell them the drug is too costly, ask if there’s a less expensive alternative. Quite often there is.

Then take that extra cash and buy some healthy fruits and vegetables. It’s a much better way to spend your hard-earned money. Stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, professor at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and host of the public radio program “ZorbaPaster on Your Health,” which airs at noon Wednesdays on 91.1 FM, and noon Sundays on 91.9 FM. His column appears twice a month in The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at askzorba@ doctorzorba.com.



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