The high cost of prescription drugs for the uninsured took center stage Thursday afternoon outside a Buffalo pharmacy.
A public interest lobbying group urged state lawmakers to establish an agency to buy medicine in bulk for individuals who lack prescription drug plans.
"We've found that the uninsured pay over 60 percent more than those with insurance," said Josh Turner, project coordinator of the New York Public Interest Research Group at Buffalo State College.
A state agency that could to bargain with drug companies and buy prescription drugs in bulk would incorporate the strategy that governments and health insurance companies use for their workers and subscribers, Turner said.
"Fourteen other states and industrialized countries like Canada and Australia do this," Turner said. "We owe it to ourselves."
As for traveling across the border to Canada to buy cheaper medicine, Turner said area residents, particularly senior citizens, should not have to go to that much trouble to save money.
To support the argument that bulk buying is needed, Turner said he and his associates surveyed 17 area pharmacies and came up with numerous discrepancies and "exorbitant prices."
At one Black Rock pharmacy, 30 tablets of Singulair cost $115, while at a North Buffalo pharmacy the same prescription cost $93.69.
"The average consumer doesn't have time to go around to local drug stores and compare prices," said Mary Carney, the former regional director of NYPIRG. "The prices are arbitrarily set."
The news conference in front of the CVS Pharmacy at Elmwood Avenue and Amherst Street was one of 15 held statewide to highlight a study on the high cost of prescription drugs for the poor.
NYPIRG and several other consumer groups developed the report by comparing prices paid by the uninsured and those with prescription plans.
The goal now, Turner said, is to persuade the State Legislature to establish bulk purchasing for the uninsured.
Part of the study also found that many pharmacies throughout the state do not comply with a law to provide consumers, upon request, with a price list for the 150 most popular prescription drugs.
But in Western New York that was not the case, Turner said. Most drug stores complied by providing the list and posting of signs stating such a list was available.
Tammie Lee Demler of Wheatfield, president of the Pharmacists Association of Western New York, said Thursday evening that a bulk drug purchasing bill already has come before the Legislature in Albany, but pharmacists opposed it because it offered them no say in how much compensation they would be allowed.
"We're always trying to find creative ways to reduce costs and maintain safety," she said, "but if we don't provide for reimbursement for the pharmacies, the pharmacies will close."
She added that the measure also did not cover "the 80 percent cost of the ingredients, which we see as the biggest problem."
In Albany, meanwhile, NYPIRG, the Center for Medical Consumers and the New York Statewide Senior Action Council announced that consumers can compare drug prices from 248 pharmacies across the state on the NYPIRG Web site -- www.nypirg.org.
State Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer also offers comparisons of prices in every county on 25 of the most common drugs on his Web site -- www.NYAGRx.org.
News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson and Associated Press reports contributed to this article.