Background: Many patients even those with health insurance pay out-of-pocket for medicines. We investigated the availability and prices of essential medicines in the Boston area.
Methods: Using the WHO/HAI methodology, availability and undiscounted price data for both originator brand (OB) and lowest price generic (LPG) equivalent versions of 25 essential medicines (14 prescription; 11 over-the-counter (OTC)) were obtained from 17 private pharmacies. The inclusion and prices of 26 essential medicines in seven pharmacy discount programs were also studied. The medicine prices were compared with international reference prices (IRPs).
Results: In surveyed pharmacies, the OB medicines were less available as compared to the generics. The OB and LPG versions of OTC medicines were 21.33 and 11.53 times the IRP, respectively. The median prices of prescription medicines were higher, with OB and LPG versions at 158.14 and 38.03 times the IRP, respectively. In studied pharmacy discount programs, the price ratios of surveyed medicines varied from 4.4-13.9.
Conclusions: While noting the WHO target that consumers should pay no more than four times the IRPs, medicine prices were considerably higher in the Boston area. The prices for medicines included in the pharmacy discount programs were closest to WHO's target. Consumers should shop around, as medicine inclusion and prices vary across discount programs. In order for consumers to identify meaningful potential savings through comparison shopping, price transparency is needed.