Solution to High Prescription Drug Prices

Published October 24, 2002

CHICAGO: High prescription drug prices and what to do about them have become major issues in state and federal political races in Missouri. But advocates of having the government “do something” to lower prices may be overlooking a far simpler solution.

A new survey of prescription drug pricing in Missouri shows consumers can save up to 81 percent on their prescriptions simply by comparison shopping.

The survey obtained prescription prices by calling pharmacies in Jefferson City, St. Louis, and Sedalia in central Missouri. In each city one discount store or supermarket, one chain drug store, and one independent “mom and pop” retailer were chosen. Stores included Tolson Drug, Cordes, Bing’s, Walgreen’s, Medicine Shoppe, Osco, Gerbes, Schnuck’s, and Wal-Mart.

Prices were collected for a 30-day supply of one of four popular prescription medications in commonly prescribed dosages, and reflect costs that would be incurred by uninsured customers with no other means of cost reduction.

Among the key findings of the survey:Comparison shopping for two generic prescription drugs would save 81 percent;

  • Comparison shopping for two brand-name drugs would save an average 9.7 percent;
  • The best generic prices were spread evenly among supermarkets, chain drug stores, and independent retailers;
  • ‘Mom and pop’drug stores offered significantly lower costs on branded prescriptions.

The survey also discovered a pharmacy that offers a competitive price for one prescription may not offer the best prices for other drugs. For example, three of the nine pharmacies surveyed failed to offer the cheapest price for any of the four prescriptions requested, over half had the most costly price for at least one prescription, and one-third offered both the highest and lowest retail prices for at least one of the four drugs.

“One lesson from this survey is that we don’t need more government regulations, bureaucracies, or entitlement programs to reduce the cost of prescription drugs,” said Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, the national research organization that released the survey results. “Instead of pandering to voters by promising price controls and other policies that don’t work in the long run, elected officials should simply advise voters to buy prescriptions the same way they buy groceries and appliances: by comparison shopping.”

Conrad Meier, managing editor of Health Care News, a monthly publication of The Heartland Institute, concurred. “Every once and a while, a problem is actually smaller than it appears to be. Consumers could save billions of dollars a year on prescription drugs simply by calling two or three stores and asking for prices before they buy.”

Editor: The survey was conducted by Public Issue Management, LLP, St. Paul, Minnesota, in September, 2002. Complete survey results are enclosed with this news release. The Heartland Institute is an 18-year-old nonpartisan research organization based in Chicago. A survey by ABC News in Michigan found similar results: go to

The Heartland Institute publishes Health Care News, a monthly newspaper devoted to market-based health care reform. For more information, including back issues of Health Care News, visit

For further information, contact Heartland Public Affairs Director Greg Lackner at 312/377-4000, 773/498-6447, email [email protected]