Major change in pharmacy prices with a doubling of the difference in some cases for commonly prescribed drugs – new study

Patients face double the price of some commonly used prescription drugs sold in pharmacies and also the lack of public price lists, a new study has emerged.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Medicine and Health Sciences RCSI (RCSI) studied the variation and availability of prescription drug prices in community pharmacies in Ireland. 1,529 pharmacies answered the questions, 1,362 by telephone and 167 by e-mail.

The study found that the most expensive pharmacies can charge more than double the price of the cheapest ones.

A typical prescription for prednisolone – a commonly prescribed steroid – costs more than €5 more, 88% higher in price, at the more expensive pharmacies, compared to the cheaper ones.

The largest relative price difference was for Eltroxin (levothyroxine) used to treat thyroid conditions. The average price quoted was €13.21, 35% more than the HSE reimbursement price of €9.80.

The average cost quoted for each of the 12 drugs studied was higher than the HSE reimbursement price for patients with a medical card. For famciclovir, used to treat shingles, the average price quoted was €46.00, €8.69 more than the HSE reimbursement price of €37.31.

For each drug, the average price quoted to researchers was higher than the price paid by the state for patients who can access subsidized drugs, notes the journal Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy.

Pharmacy chains were more expensive than independent pharmacies.

The authors said that despite regulatory guidelines that pharmacies must provide drug prices to patients, no pharmacies displayed prices on their website and 12% of pharmacies that responded to a call/email did not provide pricing.

For nine of the 12 drugs, the price was significantly higher for chain pharmacies than for independent pharmacies.

James Larkin, PhD Scholar, Department of General Practice, RCSI, and lead author said, “The wide variation in prescription drug prices and the lack of transparency from pharmacies is a problem, as it can mean that some people are paying too much for their or worse, some people are not buying their medications because they are too expensive.This is particularly concerning given the current cost of living crisis and the resulting cost pressures that many are facing. The government should consider measures that impose price transparency or price regulation.’”

James O’Mahony, assistant professor of business case research, Center for Health Policy Management, School of Medicine and lead author, said:

“Awareness is important because patients can save money by shopping. If the state regulated prices, or if there was more price transparency, it could lead to lower prices and more people taking their drugs.

The pharmaceutical regulator’s current requirements for pharmacy price transparency do not really guarantee easy access to prices for patients. We would like to see more push for transparency from the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.

The largest relative price difference was for Eltroxin (levothyroxine); the average price offered was €13.21, 35% more than the HSE reimbursement price of €9.80.

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