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Bruce Speight,
WISPIRG

National Survey Shows Uninsured Americans Pay Higher Prices For Prescription Drugs

For Immediate Release

Uninsured consumers in Madison pay 61% more for common prescription drugs than what the drug companies charge the federal government, according to Paying the Price, The High Cost of Prescription Drugs for Uninsured Americans, a new Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group report released today. Uninsured Milwaukee consumers are paying 60% more and Green Bay consumers are paying 55% more according to the report, which surveyed costs in 35 cities across the nation.

“Politicians have focused on the high cost of prescription drugs for senior citizens, but with no one to negotiate lower prices on their behalf, millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans go it alone at the drugstore and they pay the price,” said Jennifer Giegerich, WISPIRG State Director.

In the spring of 2006, WISPIRG teamed up with state PIRGs across the country to survey more than 600 pharmacies in 35 cities to determine how much uninsured consumers pay for 10 drugs when compared with prices paid by the federal government, which uses its buying power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. While many studies have focused on the impact of high drug prices on senior citizens, WISPIRG’s survey examined the prices uninsured consumers pay for a range of prescription drugs widely used by Americans under 65, such as antibiotics, allergy medication, anti-depressants, and cholesterol-lowering medication.

Among the report’s key findings:

    * Uninsured consumers in Green Bay pay fifty-five percent more, Milwaukee uninsured consumers pay sixty percent more, and uninsured Madison consumers pay sixty-one percent more than the federal government pays for the same drugs.
    
    * The uninsured in Green Bay and Milwaukee pay about twice as much at local drug stores than they would pay for the same drugs at a Canadian pharmacy, while Madison consumers pay almost three times as more. One drug, the hormone replacement Premarin, costs 533 percent more at a drugstore in Milwaukee than it would at a Canadian pharmacy. Premarin costs 484.3 percent more in Green Bay and 521 percent more in Madison than it would at a Canadian pharmacy.
    
    * Nationally, uninsured Americans pay 60 percent more on average than the federal government pays for the prescription drugs surveyed.
    
    * For all 35 cities surveyed, the uninsured were charged twice as much for drugs purchased at their local drugs stores than they would pay at a Canadian pharmacy.

WISPIRG had the following policy recommendations:

    * Increase the availability of low cost generic drugs by increasing the budget for the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Generic Drugs, which currently has a backlog of 800 generic drug applications waiting for approval.
    
    * Establish prescription drug-buying pools at the state level to allow individuals (including the uninsured), businesses and the government to use their combined buying power to negotiate lower drug prices with manufacturers.
    
    * Legalize prescription drug importation. This would provide immediate relief to consumers, cutting their prescription drugs costs in half.

WISPIRG had the following tips for consumers:

    * Use the phone and shop around. Some pharmacists offer discounts to those without insurance coverage.
    
    * Use the Internet to find out the average retail cost of medications.
    
    * Buy generic drugs, which are almost always less expensive than brand name counterparts, whenever possible.

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