Some pharmacies are charging three times what others are for a scarce liquid form of the H1N1 drug Tamiflu used by children, USA TODAY has found. At least two states' attorneys general are investigating.
The out-of-pocket price to fill the same liquid Tamiflu prescription can range from $43 to $130, according to USA TODAY's phone survey of more than 100 pharmacies in six states.
"We're very concerned because there is a shortage and exploiting a shortage is unconscionable," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is investigating after finding similar price variations in his state. He's also probing potential price gouging with seasonal flu vaccine.
Mississippi is investigating, too. "We would ask that anyone who had any reports of overcharging for Tamiflu or the H1N1 vaccine to please call us," Attorney General Jim Hood said.
Swiss drugmaker Roche has focused on making Tamiflu capsules that are faster to produce. Because of the liquid shortage, some pharmacies make their own, mixing Tamiflu capsules into a sweet syrup. Liquid Tamiflu is mostly taken by children because it's easier to swallow and comes in lower doses.
About 2.2 million children younger than 6 have no health coverage, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research group. The prices given to USA TODAY for the same liquid dose for children:
"We're dealing with a national health epidemic," said Bruce Schneider, of Hart Pharmacy in Wichita whose price was $49. "If I want to sleep at night, I don't think I should be taking advantage of the situation."
Some variation in prices may be due to the cost and dosage of Tamiflu capsules a pharmacy stocks, said Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman. CVS stores gave price quotes of $52 to $83.
Walgreens said it would charge $94.49, and Leanne Trela, director of retail clinical services, expressed surprise at lower prices.
Even parents with health coverage face delays in getting approval for the medicine, said Douglas Hoey of the National Community Pharmacists Association, which sent letters about coverage problems to some major prescription-benefits firms.
Inflated pharmacy charges are one reason claims are being rejected, said Maria Palumbo, a spokeswoman for Express Scripts, a leading benefits firm. "Unfortunately, we are seeing claims for compounded Tamiflu that are over five times the average costs for this product," she said.
Contributing: Chris Joyner of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.