Benson reveals new way to compare drug costs

CONCORD – Gov. Craig Benson announced a first-in-the-nation effort Thursday that allows consumers to compare the price of prescription drugs at New Hampshire pharmacies and state-endorsed locations in Canada.

The new prescription drug price device on the state’s Web site will be especially helpful to the 280,000 in the state who lack any coverage in their health plan, Benson told reporters.

“This gives a good benchmark for people to work with,’’ he said. “Hopefully, there will be a lot of interest with it.’’

The Web link is the latest in a continuing effort by Benson to try to help citizens deal with the soaring costs of prescription drugs.

The prices are the “usual and customary’’ charged to low-income citizens who are on the state-federal Medicaid insurance program and will only be updated every 30 days.

David Minnis, a lobbyist for the state pharmacy industry, said the prices advertised on the site are “disingenuous’’ because they are often less than what the drug store owner has to pay for the pharmaceuticals from wholesalers.

“It’s really disingenuous for those prices to be disseminated because they don’t really reflect what the pharmacist has to pay,’’ he said.

A group of independent pharmacists has sued the state over the price restrictions placed on them by the state’s pharmacy benefit manager, First Health of Alexandria, Va.

The Web site also will encourage consumers to buy drugs at different locations, which can cause health complications, Minnis said.

“You really want one pharmacist to have all your medications so that person can make sure there aren’t contra-indications or unintended side effects that can occur,’’ he said.

“For a few dollars savings, this can be penny wise and pound foolish for someone who ends up having to go to an emergency room for treatment.’’

Several states offer price comparison information, including Arizona, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico and New York.

But no other state allows consumers to then look at how much cheaper they can get the drug at a pharmacy in Canada that the state has found to be safe and reliable.

Earlier this year, Benson defied federal law by purchasing drugs over the Internet from Canada, then had two pharmacists go up and inspect locations in Manitoba.

U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., has sponsored legislation to allow the state to re-import cheaper drugs, although Benson has endorsed a competing bill that opens the market even more aggressively and is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen said the state only can rely on price information given to it monthly, which is why it can’t be updated any more often than that.

“It’s a rough estimate, but it’s a good estimate,’’ he said.

State Medicaid Director Steve Norton said prescription drug prices change frequently.

Benson credited Information Technology Office Director Rick Bailey for coordinating the Web site link.