You can't shop what you can't accurately price, so the effectiveness of many state Web sites intended for consumer drug price comparison is hampered by "extensive gaps in price information," according to a study released by the Center for Studying Health System Change, a Washington-based not-for-profit healthcare policy group.
Ten statesConnecticut, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermonthave Web sites with drug price data available for shoppers in late 2007, according to the center. And while more states, including California, have plans to launch similar sites, a few others, including Ohio and Washington, shut theirs down.
One problem is that both insured and uninsured patients face different retail prices for the same drug because of variances in copays and plan coverage and price discounts negotiated by their plans, but most states rely on data from Medicaid pharmacy claims using calculations most often based on the so-called "usual and customary" price information reported to the states.
"Missing price information seriously limits the usefulness of existing state prescription drug Web sites," said the center's president, Paul Ginsburg, in a news release. Maryland, for example, lists prices for 26 drugs on its site while Minnesota has prices for 400 drugs, and the Missouri and New Hampshire programs include pricing for any drug billed to Medicaid during the reporting period.
Among the state Web sites, the number of drugs with price information varied widely, ranging from as few as 26 drugs in Maryland to as many as 400 drugs in Minnesota, while New York and Missouri post prices for any drug billed to Medicaid during the reporting period.