Hospital chargemaster prices for generics up to 6,000% more than pharmacies, research finds

Chargemaster prices for generic drugs in hospitals can be 6,000 percent higher than the price of the same drug in a pharmacy, according to an analysis by GoodRx, a pharmacy discount company. 

GoodRx analyzed chargemaster prices for 12 common generic drugs at 16 geographically diverse hospitals across the U.S. and compared the prices to cash prices at pharmacies. The company said cash prices are readily available and provide a good benchmark for the "fair" price consumers should pay for a generic drug. 

The researchers found that generic drugs may not be as affordable in an inpatient or emergency room setting as at a pharmacy, even if they're the exact same medications, and that charges for routine generics vary greatly from hospital to hospital. 

For example, Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas charges $57 per 50 mg tablet of sertraline, the generic version of Zoloft, a popular antidepressant. Camden Clark Memorial Hospital in Parkersburg, W.V., charges three different prices for the pill, all around $0.50 per pill, a more than 115% difference in pricing compared to Sunrise Hospital. 

Camden Clark Memorial Hospital and Albany Memorial Hospital in New York both charge about $0.40 per pill of lisinopril, which is used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure. But Greater El Monte Community Hospital in South El Monte, Calif., lists a price of $19 per pill, and Sunrise Hospital charges $43 per pill. 

Aspirin, a widely used painkiller, has an average retail price of $0.15 in most U.S. pharmacies, according to GoodRx, making a monthly supply about $4.50. But in hospitals included in GoodRx's analysis, the average price is about $6 per tablet, varying from as little as $0.17 to $19 per tablet, depending on the hospital. 

The researchers noted that health insurance insulates many from paying the chargemaster prices at hospitals, but the prices still affect the uninsured, those with high deductibles and those treated in out-of-network hospitals. 

Find GoodRx's full analysis here

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