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(09/14/2020) The Western New England University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has completed a research study that evaluates cash prices for the most frequently prescribed classes of medications by type of dispensing community pharmacy. The manuscript, “Comparison of Discounted and Undiscounted Cash Prices for Commonly Prescribed Cardiovascular Medications by type of U.S. Community Pharmacy” finds that online drug discount platforms can help patients locate the lowest prescription drug prices when paying out-of-pocket. The article was published recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM).

Cardiovascular (CV) drugs are one of the most frequently dispensed drugs in U.S. community pharmacies. Every fifth prescription picked up in a pharmacy is for a cardiovascular medication. These drugs are used to treat hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, heart failure, and arrhythmias. The cash price of these life-sustaining medications varies significantly in community pharmacies.

“We found that price differences can fluctuate at least two fold per generic prescription,” says Minji Hong, Western New England University pharmacy year 3 student and coauthor of the manuscript.

Underinsured patients, patients covered by plans with high deductibles, or those with no insurance at all, regularly pay for their prescription medications out-of-pocket. These patients may often face a difficult decision between purchasing their medications and purchasing groceries for their families. Skipping doses or stopping the medications altogether may negatively affect health outcomes and can lead to expensive hospitalizations or even death. Unlike other consumer goods, patients are less likely to be aware that prescription medication prices can vary and therefore are less likely to shop around for the best price.

“My interest in this topic came from my passion for improving patient care,” says Hong. “As I was reading various studies to select a research project, it dawned on me that even the most effective medication can be of little value if a patient is unable to afford it. I like to apply the knowledge that I learn in the Pharmacy program, and research was the perfect opportunity for me to do so.”

“At first, I was only working on this project for Pharmaceutical Industry in a Global Context class,” Hong added. “Dr. Shcherbakova advised me to expand the study scope so the project can be presented at a national research meeting and published in a peer-reviewed journal.”

Dr. Natalia Shcherbakova, Associate Professor of Pharmacoeconomics and manuscript coauthor explains “WNE College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has been very successful placing graduates into highly competitive post-graduate training programs, in part due to the efforts of faculty closely mentoring our students in research. The University encourages students get involved in research with faculty as early as their first professional year; a few begin even earlier during their pre-pharmacy years. Our students present research at national meetings, and publish manuscripts by the time they graduate – or soon thereafter.”

“The results of these research efforts are tangible: the residency match rate for WNE College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in 2020 was second best in the country, better than larger programs with top-10 rankings,” added Dr. John Pezzuto, Dean of the WNE College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

The research project was a cross-sectional study of CV medications at different types of pharmacies. Data were collected during July 2020. The sample included 41 generic and 16 brand-name medications with majority being on the list of top 200 most prescribed drugs.

“We looked at GoodRx, a drug saving platform that provides drug coupons for use in community pharmacies across the United States, and both discounted and undiscounted cash prices of drugs at national chain pharmacies, as well as mass merchandiser and supermarket pharmacies. We also evaluated cash prices at an analytical pharmacy, which is a new type of pharmacy in the U.S that tests each batch of the medication before dispensing,” said Hong.

The study concluded that undiscounted generic CV drug cash prices are significantly higher than discounted GoodRx cash prices. Undiscounted brand-name CV drug cash prices are not significantly different from GoodRx discounted prices. Moreover, while the use of GoodRx coupons when filling generic CV drugs can result in significant savings to patients paying for their medications out-of-pocket, the use of GoodRx coupons for brand-name CV drugs does not net a significant savings, and offers only marginally lower prices.

Patients paying for their CV medications out-of-pocket are advised to compare prices their medications at different pharmacy types, including supermarket and mass merchandisers pharmacies, and use discount coupons when possible. Finding ways to access medications at more affordable prices can potentially be lifesaving.

For more information about this study visit https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-06149-7. For more information about the Western New England University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences program, visit the website at www1.wne.edu/pharmacy-and-health-sciences.

Having just celebrated its Centennial, Western New England University is a private, independent, coeducational institution. Located on an attractive 215-acre suburban campus in Springfield, Massachusetts, Western New England serves 3,825 students, including 2,580 full-time undergraduate students. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs are offered through Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and the School of Law.