Some pharmacies are charging more than twice the standard price for prescription drugs and consumers could save thousands of dollars by shopping around, a Herald on Sunday survey has revealed.
We randomly selected 10 pharmacies in Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton and asked how much they charge for six common, non-subsidised medications.
The prices varied wildly.
One month's supply of cholesterol-management drug Vytorin was $120 at Auckland's Westfield St Lukes - $16 more than average and $41 more than the cheapest outlet, Waugh's Pharmacy in Tauranga.
The best-value Avigra, a generic brand of the sex drug Viagra, was 20 per cent cheaper than the standard rate and hair-loss drug Propecia cost between $123 and $97.
By shopping around you could save nearly $1 a tablet or $1679 over five years.
A six-month supply of partially funded contraceptive pill Loette was $53 at Life Pharmacy St Lukes but $10 cheaper in nearby Mt Eden or downtown.
The most expensive pharmacy in the survey, Radius Browns Bay, charged $21 for reflux aid Losec, when the average price was $14 and the cheapest was $10.
Similarly, Radius Browns Bay charged $77 for arthritis drug Celebrex when an identical prescription would cost about $61 across town.
One of the cheapest pharmacies, St Heliers Unichem, belonged to the same group as two of the most expensive - Life Pharmacy St Lukes and Radius Browns Bay.
A pharmacist within the group told the Herald on Sunday that franchise owners could mark up medications between 30 and 50 per cent depending on the area's demographic, socioeconomic status and local competition.
Pharmacy Guild chief executive Annabel Young said pharmacies were businesses in an open market and the price ranges came down to different overheads. "They set their own prices, much like any other business," she said.
Young added that consumers should phone around local outlets to gauge the best value for money, but cautioned against rating a pharmacy on price alone.
"The value you get from a pharmacist is in the discussion of your condition and the side-effects of the medication," she said. Auckland City Hospital Pharmacy and Hamilton East Pharmacy were selected for the survey but declined to disclose their prices.
CONSIDER THE COSTS
Semi-retired Aucklander Terry Foster collected his prescriptions at his local pharmacy in Remuera. He hadn't considered there would be a significant price difference between outlets.
But he discovered a nearby pharmacy sold the same medications at a cheaper price. "I noticed it was up to 50 per cent cheaper at Greenwoods Corner," Foster, 69, said. "I regularly pick up inhalers ... and it does add up."