Attorney general investigates flu prices

A prescription for the popular swine flu remedy Tamiflu can be purchased for $63 at the Rite Aid on Church Street — or for $125 at the CVS at 215 Whalley Ave.

Amid growing national concern that wide variations in the price of Tamiflu, a drug used to treat the H1N1 virus and seasonal flu, may be the result of price gouging, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 is investigating the pricing practices of three national pharmacies, he announced last week. He told the News Thursday that he launched the investigation because had received complaints about pharmacies’ high prices for the drug from consumers and health organizations. He said he is concerned the pharmacy chains might be illegally exploiting the nationwide shortage of the drug amid the H1N1 pandemic.

“Price gouging in medical products, in addition to being wrong, violates the Unfair Trade Practices Act and public health safety laws,” Blumenthal said. “This investigation will benefit consumers and families by shining a light on these pricing policies.”

As part of the investigation, Blumenthal said he is seeking information to compare current prices to prices before the H1N1 outbreak at Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS.

In New Haven, pharmacies’ prices for a typical liquid Tamiflu prescription — 30 milligrams twice a day for five days — vary widely at eight major pharmacies in the city found. The CVS at 215 Whalley Ave. charges the highest price in the city, $124.99, and the 66 Church St. Rite Aid charges the lowest, $62.99. The average price in the city is $69.74.

While the capsule form of Tamiflu is readily available, there has been a shortage of the liquid form, which is primarily given to children because it is easier to swallow.

A USA Today survey of over 100 pharmacies in six states revealed that prices to fill the same prescription of liquid Tamiflu vary from as low as $43 to as high as $130.

But despite the wide range of prices being charged for the drug, spokespeople for all three of the corporations Blumenthal is investigating said they have not raised Tamiflu prices one cent during the H1N1 crisis.

Walgreens spokesman Jim Cohn said in an interview Thursday that the pharmacy even reduced the average price of liquid Tamiflu Thanksgiving week over 20 percent, from about $95 to about $75. However, he added, only two percent of Walgreens customers do not use insurance to offset the cost of the drug.

The Rite Aid average price has remained at $61.67 throughout the past year, said spokeswoman Cheryl Slavinsky.

Still, it is unclear whether the national chains have the ability or will to ensure their stores charge the stated average prices, Blumenthal said.

Individual stores often charge different prices, Cohn said, because the shortage has forced them to manufacture the liquid suspension form of Tamiflu on site.

All three chains have said they will fully cooperate with Blumenthal’s investigation. CVS has already provided Blumenthal with the information he requested, DeAngelis said.

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