Hank Investigates: Medicine Markup
Pills for high blood pressure, pills for kidney problems… If Doris Brewer doesn’t take her medicine, she knows what can happen.
"I need those to live."
The pills cost hundreds of dollars a month--but the Brewers have no insurance and get no help from the government.
"I'm paying the whole thing."
To save money the Springfield couple buys generics --
But how much of a bargain are they really getting? Our investigation found a pattern of massive price markups on generic drugs that targets cash paying customers. Health care advocates say that it hurts those who who can least afford it.
"He's going to pay a much higher price than anyone else and fundamentally it's unfair."
Robert Restuccia, Health Care For All
Here's what they don't want you to know. The price a pharmacy pays wholesale to buy prescription drugs is a closely guarded trade secret, but we obtained these actual invoices drug store had turned over to state health care financing officials. They reveal the exact prices some pharmacies have paid for dozens of medications.
But when we called those pharmacies to see what they charged cash paying retail customers for the same drug...Every time, drug stores made massive markups on the prices of generic drugs.
- Flouocinonide--a skin cream:
Invoice price (one tube) - $1.46
Retail price - $25.99
- Labetalol-a beta blocker:
Retail price --$78.59
- Pindolol- a blood pressure drug:
Invoice price: $5.84
Retail price: $121.19
Just for comparison, we called ten other drug stores--and across the board, we found many upped the invoice price 800 to 1200 percent!
"When you see these, what does it prove?"
Hank Phillippi Ryan, Investigative Reporter
More--because it's all about purchase power. Since the government and insurance companies negotiate and cap prices they'll pay, their prices are much lower.
But for individual cash paying customers, as the national chain drug store association admits: each pharmacy can charge whatever it wants.
"I think what needs to be said here is you know, we live in America where people charge different things for different services."
Pharmacies explained they're trapped--between the high prices they pay for brand name drugs and decreasing Medicaid and insurance reimbursement rates, and overhead costs, they need to make money somewhere.
"Pharmacists are a business like anyone else. It's not a vending machine."
But families like the Brewers who struggle every month to pay for life-saving medications say they're the ones who are trapped - not poor enough for government aid or rich enough for insurance--and forced to pay the most for marked up medicine.
"The medication is the same medication. That isn't fair."
If you are paying cash—it’s important that you shop around for the best prices--we found the large wholesale/discount stores most often have some of the lowest prices for generic drugs.