A new source for drug pricing information, Prescription BlueBook

Prescription drugs are a big part of modern medicine, and they can also be expensive. For self-pay patients who need to save every dollar while getting the medicines they need, getting the best deal is crucial.

As with most of health care however, finding real prices for prescription drugs can be a challenge. In the past I’ve written about web sites like WeRx.com and GoodRx.com, which give users the retail price of drugs offered at nearby pharmacies. And of course there’s also NeedyMeds,* which offers a prescription drug discount card and helps connect patients with the assistance programs offered by nearly every drug manufacturer.

There’s a relatively new web site called Prescription BlueBook that offers a new approach to saving on prescription drugs. Instead of giving patients information or discounts on retail drug prices, they provide individuals with access to the average wholesale price that pharmacies pay for drugs.

The site was founded by a retired pharmacist, Steve Patton of South Carolina. A news release on the site explains the how and why of Prescription BlueBook:

A yearly subscription to PrescriptionBlueBook.com grants access to the wholesale cost of thousands of name brand and generic medications, while also suggesting a fair retail price for each drug. Price changes are routinely updated and new drugs are added to the database as they enter the market. 

… Much like the “dealer invoice” movement gave car buyers in the 90’s, prescription drug buyers can use this powerful information to negotiate pricing, shop around or talk with their physician about lower cost drug options before ever reaching to the cash register.

Mr. Patton is a retired pharmacist who grew his independent pharmacy into one of the largest in South Carolina before retiring in 2008. He believes consumers have been mislead into thinking that all pharmacies charge similar prices. This is simply not the case and some pharmacies charge outrageously inflated prices on a vast array of drugs. PrescriptionBlueBook.com’s mission is to prepare consumers to navigate through the ever-changing prescription drug cost landscape.

User’s have saved hundreds with PrescriptionBlueBook.com. “I’ve been suffering from migraines. My doctor gave me a prescription for 6 tablets of Maxalt. My pharmacy charges $215.00! I checked PrescriptionBlueBook.com and learned a wholesale cost of 6 tablets of Maxalt is $7.50. With this info I called around and found 12 tablets for $59.00. I got twice as many tablets for a fraction of the price the other pharmacy wanted for 6!! I love this website!! Thank you PrescriptionBlueBook.com!!” ~ Anita S.

I checked the drug index to see how extensive the list of drugs with pricing information was, using just about every drug name I could remember that I or my wife have taken over the past decade or so (my wife has severe migraines on top of a few other fairly routine prescriptions, so it’s a pretty extensive list). Every single drug was listed, so based on that I’d say Prescription BlueBook probably has anything you might need covered.

Prescription BlueBook also provides generic drug price information right next to the brand-name information, which can let people know that there’s a cheaper alternative. In fact, they caught something that both GoodRx.com and WeRx.com missed, that there’s a ‘near-generic’ for one of my wife’s medications, albeit in a different form (hence my use of the term ‘near-generic’).

I’m saving it for a post all its own, but the short version is that Cambia, a fairly expensive ($30 – $40 per pill) brand-name drug that helps ‘knock out’ migraines (my wife’s description) does not have a true generic. It’s a powder that is dissolved in water and then drank, which gets it into the bloodstream very quickly. However, there is a generic for the same medicine in tablet form, running about $0.20 per pill. It’s not quite as fast-acting, but it’s an awful lot less expensive and it usually does the job.

So Prescription BlueBook caught the fact that Cambia does have a generic in another form, while the other price comparison sites I routinely rely on missed it.

The site suggests there are three primary ways people can use Prescription BlueBook:

Each time your doctor prescribes a new medication for you or your family, log in and find out the drug’s cost. You’ll know immediately if you should talk with your doctor about less expensive alternative drug treatment, shop for a lower price or negotiate a lower price with your pharmacy.

At only $4 per month to subscribe, Prescription BlueBook seems like a pretty good deal – with one substantial caveat.

Prescription BlueBook does not give users the retail prices of drugs, although it does recommend a ‘fair’ price for the drugs. My concern is that there may be some unrealistic expectations on the part of users, who may think that pharmacy prices should only be a set percentage over wholesale cost, or that they should get their drugs for something close to the wholesale cost.

The home page of Prescription BlueBook raises some red flags for me on this issue. It lists 20 prescription drugs and gives their wholesale cost as well as the ‘National Chain Pharmacy Charges,’ which they suggest are ‘shocking’ and ‘stunning,’ and then calculates the difference and calls that the pharmacy’s profit.

For example, it lists ‘Generic Seroquel, 400mg, 60 pills’ as having a pharmacy cost of $21.08 and shows that the ‘National Chain Pharmacy’ would charge $1,128.99 for that drug, and then calls the $1,107.91 difference ‘Their Profit.’

Well, that’s just ridiculous. Pharmacies have significant costs above what they pay for the drugs that need to be covered, like rent, staff, security, inventory tracking and sales systems, and a bunch of other expenses, all of which must be paid for out of the difference between the wholesale cost and the sale price. And not all drugs have similar overhead expenses – some must be refrigerated, others ordered in on an as-needed basis, and other factors all add additional costs.

And yes, they do need to make a profit as well!

But back to generic Seroquel (which is quetiaphine). I searched for it on GoodRx.com and WeRx.com , and they confirmed that the price of this drug can be pretty high, ranging in my neck of the woods from $41 to $1,405 for that quantity and dosage. Most of the local pharmacies offer coupons or discounts for quetiaphine, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to get it for under $100.

Setting aside the little issue of how they define ‘profit,’ it is easy to see how Prescription BlueBook in tandem with some of the other drug price search sites can result in significant savings. In the case of quetaphine, a self-pay patient could probably deduce that with such a large spread between the wholesale cost and the retail price, it’s worth taking the time to hunt around for the best deal.

Knowing the wholesale price of drugs should be considered one possible starting point for self-pay patients looking for savings on prescription drugs, but users should keep in mind that there’s a lot more to selling pharmaceuticals than just serving as the middleman between the manufacturer and the patient. So long as people keep that in mind, Prescription BlueBook can be a valuable tool for self-pay patients.

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3 Responses to A new source for drug pricing information, Prescription BlueBook

  1. Jerome Bigge says:

    Without prescription laws, it is likely that we’d see an Internet seller like Amazon.com providing these drugs at a “lower than drugstore” price. For example, I can buy test strips (my wife is a diabetic) for a lower price from Amazon than anywhere else. The “free market” does do a good job of holding down costs if it is allowed to do so.

  2. Jim H says:

    WARNING to anyone who might use this service: I signed up for the monthly plan ($4 per month) a few months ago. I no longer want the service but there is no way to access my payment information on their website in order to cancel my subscription. I sent an e-mail to the the address referenced in my most recent automatic payment notice, and I just received back an e-mail failure message that says “The email account that you tried to reach does not exist.” I just called 877-320-4740 and reached a person at a call center who could offer no assistance whatsoever. This smells like fraud. Beware.

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