Americans have come to rely on their smartphones to help them do seemingly everything, like hailing a taxi and comparing prices of dog food.
But when it comes to buying prescription drugs, consumers still find the process maddeningly antiquated.
Now, a few entrepreneurs say they are aiming to fundamentally change the way people buy drugs, bringing the industry into the digital age by disclosing the lowest prices for generic prescriptions to allow comparison-shopping.
Most major pharmacies do not list the price of the drugs they sell. And even if they do, prices for the same drug can vary strikingly and cost far more than the rate that most insurers pay. Consumers often don’t know how much they will owe until the pharmacist tallies the purchase at the cash register.
“The prices are all over the map, even within the same ZIP code,” said Lisa Gill, deputy editor of Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, which tracks variation in prices. “It’s a retail transaction that doesn’t actually act like any retail transaction.”
Frustration over drug pricing bubbled over at a congressional hearing last week, when Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, directed an exasperated question at an executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which set off public outrage last fall after sharply raising prices on a little-known drug. “Why isn’t it possible,” he asked, “to just have a price where anybody who wants to know what that price is can go to a website and see?”
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