Visitors to the Medicare Web site can now compare prices for similar drugs used to treat common diseases such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, and possibly find lower-cost alternatives to the drugs they are taking.
The "Lower Cost Rx Comparison Tool" currently lists price information for 52 brand-name and generic medications. The tool is available on the Medicare Web site, www.medicare.gov. A toll-free phone service has also been provided to help beneficiaries compare drug prices (call 1-800-MEDICARE). (See below for instructions on finding the tool on Medicare's site.)
Medicare beneficiaries enter the medications they are currently taking and a customized report is generated for each of their medications, including less expensive versions of the same drug and brand name or generic versions of similar but less expensive drugs that are available to treat the same condition.
For example, Zocor, a top-selling medication used for treating high cholesterol, costs an average of $89.38 per month for the 20 mg. tablets. Using the new comparison tool, a beneficiary will find several lower cost options, including another brand name drug, Altoprev, that costs $57.19 per month for the 40 mg. tablets, an annual savings of $386.32.
However, considering the publicity by the Department of Health and Human Services surrounding its release, the Lower Cost Rx Comparison Tool is fairly well hidden on Medicare's Web site. Here's how to find it:
- Go to www.medicare.gov
- Click on "Prescription Drug and Other Assistance Programs"
- Answer the questions asked (the tool does not appear to be available for those who answer "No" to the question "Do you have Medicare")
- Enter drug name or names
- Click "Add Drug"
- Select dosage amount
- Click on "Finished Drug Selection"
- Click on the blue "More Ways to Save" tab near the top of the page
- Scroll down to "Search the Lower Cost Rx Comparison tool now" and click on this.
Those calling Medicare to compare drug prices may not necessarily have an easier time of it. A Medicare agent who answered a call on September 22, 2004, had not yet heard of the price comparison tool. (Medicare announced the new service on September 15.)
For a press release on the Lower Cost Rx Comparison Tool, click on: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2004pres/20040915a.html