Drugstores beat Part D gap prices, study finds

Published October 11, 2006

Floridians landing in Medicare's infamous "doughnut hole" can probably save money by shopping around rather than blindly accepting discount prices offered by their Part D drug plans, according to a Consumers Union study announced Tuesday.

Consumer's Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, surveyed 261 pharmacies in Broward County and found their lowest prices for five common drugs beat the Medicare plan prices 80 percent of the time.

The "doughnut hole" occurs when someone on a private Medicare drug plan racks up a total bill of $2,250 in a calendar year. Although people have small copayments before that point, they pay all drug costs afterward. When bills reach roughly $5,100, the Medicare plans step back in with extensive help.

This coverage gap affects about one-sixth of people who signed up for Part D, according to insurance industry estimates.

Medicare expects that people in the doughnut hole will continue to buy their drugs through their Part D plans, which negotiate discounts from pharmacies.

But the Consumers Union found that going outside the plan might save money.

A Wal-Mart pharmacy sold a one-month supply of Lipitor, the popular cholesterol drug, for $62.85, more than $5 cheaper than any of Florida's 44 Medicare drug plans.

Zoloft sold for $77.72 at a Sam's Club. One of the drug plans charged $101.01.

In all, 80 percent of drug plan prices for Lipitor, Zoloft, Norvasc, Toprol and Synthroid were higher than the best price available on the open market.

People with extremely high drug bills should be careful about buying outside their plans, warned Medicare spokesman Peter Ashkenaz.

Only drugs purchased through plans apply toward getting a person out of the doughnut hole and back into good coverage.

Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at 727 893-8442 or at nohlgren@sptimes.com.