Medicare drug plans much costlier than VA drugs

A survey recently released by FamiliesUSA, a consumer health organization, shows the promised savings under the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan may be largely illusory. The survey shows the median price difference for the top 20 drugs as negotiated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is 48.2 percent lower than the prices under the Medicare plan.

FamiliesUSA found prices under the Medicare drug plan will have a strong impact on both the costs borne by seniors as well as by U.S. taxpayers. When all the premiums, deductibles, and copayments are tallied, seniors will carry about one-quarter of the new program’s costs, while taxpayers will pay the remaining three-quarters.

The George W. Bush administration and congressional leaders promised that a program operated through private plans would provide low drug prices by competition, the survey shows that is not the case.

Ron Pollack, executive director of FamiliesUSA, said: “The huge prices paid by seniors and taxpayers could have been avoided if Congress and the President had not caved in to the pressure of the drug lobby.” The drug companies authored the Part D plan. “They prohibited Medicare from bargaining for cheaper prices and, to ensure that this would never change, they delegated the administration of the benefit to private plans, which have far less bargaining clout. As a result, many seniors will be burdened with unaffordable high drug costs, and America’s taxpayers will be fleeced,” Pollack said.

The pharmaceutical industry is the No. 1 political campaign contributor in the country. It has given thousands of dollars to the Republican Party.

FamiliesUSA found VA’s lowest price is far lower than the lowest Medicare plan price for 19 of the top 20 drugs most used by seniors. For half of those top 20, the cheapest Medicare price is at least one-and-one-half times higher than the lowest VA price. For one-quarter of the top 20 drugs, the lowest Medicare plan price is at least twice as high as the VA price, and for three of the top 20 drugs, Medicare’s cheapest price is at least four times higher than VA’s lowest price.

Here’s a comparison of the annual cost difference for the top seven drugs prescribed for seniors:

Plavix, 75 mg., anti-clotting agent, lowest VA price: $887.16; Medicare: $1,229.64, a difference of $342.48 or 38.6 percent higher.

Lipitor, 10 mg., anti-cholesterol agent, VA: $497.16; Medicare: $717.84, a difference of $220.68 or 44.4 percent higher.

Fosamax, 70 mg., osteoporosis treatment, VA: $493.32; Medicare: $709.68, a difference of $216.36 or 43.9 percent higher.

Norvasc, 5 mg., calcium channel blocker, VA: $301.68; Medicare: $458.88, a difference of $157.20 or 52.1 percent higher.

Protonix, 40 mg., gastrointestinal agent, VA: $253.32; Medicare: $1,080, a difference of $826.68 or 326.3 percent higher.

Celebrex, 200 mg., anti-inflammatory agent, VA: $619.80: Medicare: $865.08, a difference of $245.28 or 39.6 percent higher.

Zocor, 20 mg., anti-cholesterol agent, VA: $167.80; Medicare: $1,323.72, a difference of $1,155.92 or 688.9 percent higher.

According to the survey, VA’s prices are lower for both generic and brand-name drugs. For 17 of the 18 brand-name drugs, the median difference between the Medicare plan and VA is 44.1 percent. Two of the top 20 drugs are generics. In that instance, the median price difference between Medicare’s plan and the VA plan is 94.5 percent.

A complete copy of the report and the drug prices on each of the 20 top drugs is available at

From the Jan. 4-10, 2006, issue

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