News Release

Uninsured Americans Pay Higher Prices for Prescription Drugs

For Immediate Release

BALTIMORE—Uninsured consumers in Baltimore pay nearly 62 percent more for common prescription drugs than what the drug companies charge the federal government, according to a new Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) report released today.

“When 46 million uninsured Americans go it alone at the pharmacy, they pay the price,” said Maryland PIRG Policy Advocate Johanna Neumann. “With no one to negotiate lower prices on their behalf, uninsured consumers often face sticker shock when trying to afford medically necessary prescriptions,” said Neumann.

In the spring of 2006, Maryland PIRG teamed up with state PIRGs across the country to survey more than 600 pharmacies in 35 cities to determine how much uninsured consumers pay for 10 drugs when compared with prices paid by the federal government, which uses its buying power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. While many studies have focused on the impact of high drug prices on senior citizens, Maryland PIRG’s survey examined the prices uninsured consumers pay for a range of prescription drugs widely used by Americans under 65, such as antibiotics, allergy medication, anti-depressants, and cholesterol-lowering medication.

Among the survey’s key findings:

  • In Baltimore, uninsured consumers pay 62% more than what the federal government pays for the same drugs, ranking the city 14th out of the 35 cities we surveyed.
  • The uninsured in Baltimore pay more than twice as much for their medication at local drug stores than they would pay at a Canadian pharmacy. The hormone replacement drug Premarin costs 566.7% more at Baltimore drug stores than it does at a Canadian pharmacy.
  • In 2004, Maryland PIRG released a similar study of prescription drug prices. Looking at the nine drugs we surveyed both in 2004 and 2006, the average price paid by uninsured consumers in Baltimore increased by 10%, faster than the general rate of inflation over the two-year period.

“Hard-working Americans use prescription drugs for healing and relief as they try to keep working. The high price of prescription drugs puts a serious strain on the work and day-to-day activities of millions of Americans,” said Ezekiel Jackson, Lead Organizer for Maryland for Health Care.

“Accessible and affordable health care including medically necessary pharmaceuticals should be the norm, not the exception,” said Janet Selway, a nurse practitioner and member of the Maryland Nurses Association.

Maryland PIRG called for increasing the availability of low cost generic drugs by closing loopholes that allow drug makers to hold on to their patents and tightening oversight of drug makers’ marketing tactics, which drive up demand for the newest and more expensive drugs regardless of effectiveness. Maryland PIRG also supports creating prescription drug buying pools at the state level to allow individuals (including the uninsured), businesses and the government to use their combined buying power to negotiate lower drug prices with manufacturers.

"Last year, the General Assembly took an important step by passing legislation which would reduce prescription drug prices for lower income Marylanders. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has been dragging its feet on the necessary federal waivers to allow this law to take effect. We demand that the Governor Ehrlich use his special relationship with President Bush to make this waiver happen so that tens of thousands of Marylanders can better afford critical prescription drugs," said Vincent DeMarco of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.

“This report clearly shows that we need innovative policies to help uninsured consumers afford their prescription medication,” said Neumann.

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