Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Bush Administration v. Big Pharma.

It's a real man-bites-dog story, but the NY Times is reporting that the Bush Administration, over the objections of the pharmaceutical industry, is posting comparative drug prices on the CMS webpage. Having carried some heavy water for Big Pharma for years, the administration appears to have started taking its pro-consumer, pro-market-forces rhetoric seriously.

On the other hand, this is a nearly unverifiable report.

The HHS press release says to find the "Lower Cost Rx Comparison Tool," go to the Medicare home page (www. and then "simply go to the 'prescription drug and other assistance program' section." I did that. Once there, you have a bunch of tabs and links from which to choose. "Quick Search" is the ticket. Once there, scroll down to the bottom of the page, where there's a search box that allows you to type in a drug name (or search a list of popular drugs or browse an alpha list of drugs). When I typed in "Diovan," my ACE inhibitor of choice, I was told to choose between "Diovan" and "Diovan HCT." After clicking on "Diovan" and the "Add Drug" button, I was taken to a page where I was asked for a dosage. After clicking on "TAB 80 mg" and typing in my current cost ($25), I clicked "Add Dosage." I was then prompted for my ZIP code, which took me to a "user agreement," and after accepting the user agreement, I was asked if I wanted to search for discount cards available at my pharmacy or in my area. Not particularly interested in telling CMS my pharmacy's name, I clicked on the latter. I then (finally) got to a screen with some pricing info, and the option of asking for more detailed info, which includes a fuller list of sources and information about enrollment fees for the various drug plans.

The article quotes "Gail E. Shearer, a health policy expert at Consumers Union: 'This is the kind of information consumers desperately need.' But she added: 'The Web site is challenging to use. You need to be really Web-savvy and good with a computer mouse to get useful information.'" That's right. Heck, you have to be really Web-savvy (which I think I am) even to find the site, and from that point on, there is one counter-intuitive page after another -- 9 mouse clicks, and lots of confusing prompts and choices that could (and did) easily derail even an experienced web surfer like me. My mother is not going to figure this out.
posted by tommayo, 10:39 PM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter