“Ever hear of a drug called Luzu? For athlete’s foot?”
The conversation started in the gym, where a woman who knows I do health care costs had a story to tell.
I said, “I bet you’re going to tell me it’s really expensive,”
She said “Yep.”
What happened: Her podiatrist recommended this medication for athlete’s foot. The podiatrist also pointed her toward a coupon on the site of the manufacturer, Ortho Dermatologics (formerly Valeant — they changed their name, perhaps because of scandal).
She went to CVS to get it. CVS does not accept that coupon, so the price would be $432.
She then took the coupon to Walgreen’s, where the price would be $75, because they do accept the coupon.
I said, “YOu know there are over-the-counter medications for athlete’s foot, right? People have been getting athlete’s foot for thousands of years. No Luzu needed.”
She said, “That’s what the lady at CVS said. Buy the over the counter — I forget the name, Lo something? — for something like $4.32.”
She went on to say that the Luzu medication was out of stock at Walgreen’s, and not back in stock until Tuesday.
I said, “if a similar medication is selling over the counter for $4.32, why would you pay even $75 for it?”
She said she wouldn’t. And then she speculated that her doctor might be getting a kickback from the manufacturer to prescribe the drug.
This medication is one of a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications for athlete’s foot. It apparently is being sold as faster than others. and therefore superior because patients won’t stop taking it over the course of treatment.
Here’s a K-Mart generic for clotrimazole, over the counter at $3.99. It’s not the same medication, but this is usually the first stop for athlete’s foot — an OTC medication for not toomuch money.
Several problems here:
- People do what their doctors suggest, often without questioning.
- You are told “the coupon doesn’t work” so you anchor on a price of $432 (the CVS price). That makes the $75 seem like a bargain, when of course an over-the-counter treatment can be had for a fraction of that price.
- The doctor should be sending people to the $4.32 OTC medication. The Mayo Clinic website notes that OTC should be the first choice.
- Do we really need doctors to be sending people to coupons? There are a lot of arguments against drug coupons. How did she know the coupon was there without being led there by the drug company?
- On the web site for Luzu, there’s a $25 coupon. So why did my gym friend get a $75 one? (Her coupon was labeled RX Access, and was from Ortho Dermatologics, the manufacturer — but the site is also made by the manufacturer.)
So many questions.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded ClearHealthCosts.
She was previously a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism. ClearHealthCosts has won grants from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York; the International Women’s Media Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC in Los Angeles; the Lenfest Foundation in Philadelphia for a partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer; and the New York State Health Foundation for a partnership with WNYC public radio/Gothamist in New York; and other honors.
Her TED talk about fixing health costs has surpassed 2 million views.