In the meantime, consumers can do themselves a favor by researching how much drugs cost. New tools that compare cash prices are beginning to shed light on a particularly murky corner of the health-care system.
Pennsylvania's Prescription Price Finder can be searched for the cash prices of 300 commonly prescribed medications at pharmacies around the state. In addition to the name of the drug, you need to know the strength of each dose and the number of doses in your prescription to get true comparisons.
Many people don't realize how widely prices can vary — for many, insurance co-pays hide the real price of a drug. Yet more and more, consumers are paying a bigger share of health-care costs.
Knowing the cash price is useful even if you have good insurance because in some instances, the cash price may actually be cheaper. Yet unless you point this out to the pharmacist, you could automatically be charged the amount of your copay.
Researchers from the University of Southern California who compared 9.5 million pharmacy claims against the national average retail price data found that in 23 percent of the claims, the copayment exceeded the drug's cash price.
The average overpayment was $7.69, according to results published in the Journal of American Medical Association in March.