Consumer Reports, the long-recognized source of independent product analysis, has opened a new website to help consumers make better informed decisions about prescription drug purchases.

The site is designed to fill gaps in the public’s knowledge about prescription drug options, show how drugs stack up against each other, offer a perspective on prescription medications that is not influenced by the marketing needs of the pharmaceutical companies and limit the number of people who drop their medications because they cannot afford the high cost of refills.

Even for individuals and families with prescription drug benefits under their current health plan, the site can be a useful resource. Drugs are compared not only on price but also on effectiveness and safety. Also, the analysis could lead consumers to lower co-pays through use of generic medications. Moreover, by creating better informed and more cost conscious consumers, the site may help control overall health care cost inflation and reign in long-range premium hikes. Prescriptions account for 12 to 19 percent of all medical spending.

The site currently allows viewers to select among five drug categories for comparison shopping:

  • Beta-blockers (for high blood pressure and heart disease)
  • Anti-depressants (for depression)
  • Statins (to lower cholesterol)
  • NSAIDs (for osteoarthritis and pain)
  • PPIs (for heartburn and ulcers)

A click on any category takes the viewer to a short page of analysis and recommendations and the option to click and download a much lengthier report.

For instance, the page on anti-depressants begins by noting that commonly-prescribed anti-depressants range in cost from $32 to more than $150 per month and suggests that the report could save a consumer $100 or more per month. In a “thumbnail guide,” it then describes situations in which anti-depressant medication may be unnecessary as well as those in which medication could help. It suggests three specific anti-depressants – all generics – which patients might consider. Finally, it lists a number of other important issues that should be considered or discussed with a patient’s doctor. A full, 22-page report on anti-depressants is also available.

All prices are based on nationwide cash price averages. Because many LIUNA health and welfare funds have managed prescription drug benefits, their drug prices may be above or below national averages, depending on their plan’s design.

“For our members,” says LHSFNA Health Promotion Director Mary Jane MacArthur, “health status and the other drugs you are taking are important considerations when selecting medications. While the comparisons regarding safety and effectiveness are general and may not apply to each individual, the website provides useful information to open a dialogue with your doctor and pharmacist.”

The site and its downloads are free. Upcoming reports will cover ACE Inhibitors (for high blood pressure), Calcium Channel Blockers (for angina and high blood pressure), Antihistamines (for allergies), Estrogens (to treat menopause), drugs to treat Alzheimer’s Disease and drugs to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).