Some pharmacies cut liquid Tamiflu cost

Walgreens has reduced its prices by nearly 20% and CVS nearly 10% for a scarce liquid form of the H1N1 drug Tamiflu amid state investigations into potential price gouging.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal still questions whether the pharmacy chains and others are charging fair prices. "I'm delighted they are reducing their prices, but they may have an obligation to reduce them even further," Blumenthal said Monday. He sent investigative letters Nov. 23 to Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid and said his investigators are interviewing independent pharmacists.

A USA TODAY telephone survey last month of more than 100 pharmacies in six states found Walgreens had among the highest out-of-pocket prices to make, or "compound," the same child-strength liquid prescription.

The survey, published on Nov. 18, found prices ranged from $43 to $130; Walgreens' price was $94.49. A follow-up phone survey by the newspaper in recent days to a dozen pharmacies that had given high price quotes found Walgreens stores had reduced the price to $75.69.

Walgreens spokesman Jim Cohn said the chain is "committed to offering competitive pricing" and "made the decision to adjust the price for compounded Tamiflu prescriptions."

The price reduction occurred around Nov. 19 or 20. He noted that Walgreens' price structure for compounded medications had been unchanged since 2006.

CVS this week set $74.99 as the chainwide price, down from about $83, for the dose and duration of the sample prescription used in USA TODAY's survey, spokeswoman Carolyn Castel said.

Rite Aid spokeswoman Cheryl Slavinsky said Monday that the chain's price is about $61 to fill USA TODAY's sample prescription. She didn't know whether that price had changed in recent weeks.

Although Tamiflu capsules are readily available, there's a shortage of manufacturer-made Tamiflu liquid, which is easier for children to swallow. Many pharmacies are mixing capsules with a sweet syrup to make their own version, an emergency measure approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Pricing factors include the varying costs of Tamiflu capsules and extra fees to make the liquid.

Blumenthal is asking pharmacies to detail their pricing structures and any changes since the recent shortage or since the swine flu pandemic began in April.

USA TODAY's follow-up calls to other pharmacies did not find additional price drops.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox warned Michigan consumers last week to shop around for the drug after his investigators used USA TODAY's methodology to survey 50 pharmacies in five cities and found similar price variations. Cox called the high prices at some pharmacies "disturbing" and said investigators will be probing further.

The Mississippi attorney general also is investigating.

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