The Merck discount program, which began on Monday, April 25th, is different from other industry-sponsored programs because all uninsured Americans can participate regardless of their age or income. It is intended to offer discounts that are “greater than or competitive to those available through Canadian pharmacies.” However, the stated range of savings of “15% to 40%” on Merck drugs makes it unclear how much money participants can actually save. Furthermore, even at a 40% discount, Americans will save more on some Merck drugs by buying them abroad.
As shown in the price comparison table below, Merck drugs can already be purchased from licensed Canadian pharmacies at discounts of 29% to 46% off U.S. prices. Even greater discounts are possible when purchasing from licensed pharmacies in other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand.
The price for Zocor, Merck’s top-selling drug, for example, is currently $420.99 for 90 pills (20 mg) at the U.S. website CVS.com. The same drug can be purchased from Canada for $220.70 (a 46% discount), from Australia for only $171.90 (a 59% discount) and from New Zealand for as little as $139.20 (a 67% discount) excluding shipping. Shipping fees add to the cost of drugs purchased by mail, but these fees are typically spread over multiple drugs ordered together, adding only a few dollars to the cost of a drug.
Under the Merck plan, an uninsured individual who requests a coupon can get an immediate savings of at least 10% on many of its drugs. A 10% discount would bring the price of Zocor to about $397. For those qualifying for its full discount plan, Merck will offer a higher, but unspecified, discount of up to 40%. But even with the largest discount, the price of Zocor will be higher than from foreign pharmacies.
For the bone-building drug Fosamax, a discount just above 40% would be needed to equal the best price abroad. To make Proscar, a prostate drug, attractively priced domestically the discount would need to be almost 40%. For the asthma medication, Singulair, a discount of approximately 30% would be needed to yield a competitive price.
Price Comparisons on Merck Drugs:
Percentage savings (in parentheses) compared to CVS.com price. Shipping not included.
|Merck Drug (strength - quantity)||CVS.com||Canada||New Zealand||United Kingdom||Australia|
|Fosamax (70 mg -12)||$ 239.97||$138.00 (42%)||$165.00 (31%)||$165.00 (31%)||$170.40 (29%)|
|Proscar (5 mg -90)||$ 278.99||$178.20 (36%)||$287.00 (-3%)||$222.33 (20%)||$286.22 (-3%)|
|Singulair (10 mg -90)||$ 298.77||$211.50 (29%)||$212.40 (29%)||$228.66 (23%)||$256.60 (14%)|
|Zocor (20 mg -90)||$ 420.99||$227.70 (46%)||$139.20 (67%)||$258.36 (39%)||$171.90 (59%)|
|Source: PharmacyChecker.com, CVS.com|
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Tod Cooperman, MD, founder and president of PharmacyChecker.com, stated, “Programs like Merck’s are welcome as long so they provide meaningful discounts to consumers. But it is already clear that some of Merck’s top drugs will be less expensive if purchased abroad than with Merck’s discounts in the U.S. And Merck will have to offer discounts at the top of its promised range to make its other drugs attractively priced. Discounts of 10%, 20%, or even 30% won’t do it.”
There are other factors that will make it difficult for the Merck Prescription Discount Program to attract Americans already filling orders online through Canada. First, the substantial U.S. drug price increases during the first quarter of 2005 somewhat offset the discounts offered by the card. Second, although drug companies have cut supplies to Canadian pharmacies, driving up prices from there, pharmacies in countries around the world have stepped in to supply Americans with medication – often at prices lower than those from Canada.
Consumers can visit www.pharmacychecker.com to get free pharmacy ratings, in-depth pharmacy profiles, and comparisons of prices on over 1,500 brand name and generic drugs from dozens of pharmacies worldwide. PharmacyChecker.com's Guide to Low-Cost Canadian and U.S. Pharmacies is available in paperback and can be ordered direct from 800-431-1579. Special group and bulk rates are available. PharmacyChecker.com is privately held and based in White Plains, New York. It has no ownership in or from companies that sell or distribute pharmacy products.