SAN FRANCISCO - Do you have a realistic view of what a prescription should cost you? That question came up when a Castro Valley woman was quoted three prices for the same drug; $20, $40 and $680. So, she wondered how could that be.
Jessie Joseph tells me she is under employed and uninsured. She takes meds for high blood pressure. She is no longer a member of Kaiser Permanente but up till recently she still had her prescriptions on file there. "About 90 days ago I filled my high pressure meds and the cost was about $40. I went in a couple days ago and was told it was going to be $680," she said.
The pharmacy suggested she check prices at the local Costco. "I go over to Costco and got the prescription for $20," she said. "My question in reaching out to you is why is this happening? Doesn't feel right, doesn't feel good and I actually have questions about the ethics behind it."
A good question to ask, so we reached out to Kaiser Permanente and they declined an on camera interview, but in an email statement from Kathryn Brown, the Vice President for the pharmacy at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said in part, "our pharmacy benefits and services are designed with Kaiser Permanente members. Under federal law, we are limited in our ability to offer that pricing to those who are not eligible as Kaiser Permanente members."
7 On Your Side asked Alameda physician and medical consumer advocate David Belk, M.D., for his take. "So 90 pills is no more worth $672 than this pencil is worth $672. It is not even close to that," he said.
Belk says Kaiser, like most pharmacies, has a member price and a retail price. Any organization selling a drug can charge whatever they want, Belk says, so as with anything consumers should shop around. Check prices of drugs and of the co-pays. Sometimes, he says, drugs can be purchased below the price of your co-pay. "The biggest problem we have in this country, with prescription drugs, is there is this poisonous myth, poisonous myth, that all prescription drugs are incredibly expensive. The reason this is a poisonous myth is because it is not true most of the time," he said.
Here is the entire statement from Kathryn Brown, Vice President, Pharmacy, Kaiser Permanente Northern California: Kaiser Permanente shares the concern about the growing price of prescription drugs and the strain it places on patients and families around the country. We are strong advocates for new approaches to drug pricing that reward genuine innovation at prices all patients can afford. Our pharmacy benefits and services are designed with Kaiser Permanente members in mind as part of our unique system of integrated care and coverage. Under federal law, as a non-profit organization, we are limited in our ability to offer that pricing to those who are not eligible as Kaiser Permanente members. We appreciate Ms. Joseph's previous membership with Kaiser Permanente, and the fact that she wishes to continue to use our pharmacy services. All Kaiser Permanente members are notified if they leave our integrated care and coverage system that they will no longer be eligible for member pricing. As a courtesy we do advise the general public that they may wish to check prices at other pharmacies.
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