New Minnesota dashboard, online sites hope to push down prescription drug prices

The state of Minnesota is hoping to play a part in controlling fast-rising prescription drug prices.

The state launched a new data dashboard, giving everyone a chance to track the drugs they need as a trip to the pharmacy often requires a deep dive into your bank account these days.

"I have noticed drug prices are often very high," said one pharmacy shopper.

Prescription drug prices climbed more than 40% over the last five years in Minnesota, and almost nobody seems to know why — even experts at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

"It is one of the most maddeningly complex systems that my staff and I have looked at," said Stefan Gildemeister, the state health economist at MDH.

Gildemeister’s team launched a dashboard in late February, forcing a bit of transparency in an opaque system. Their data includes five years of price tracking on a lot of commonly used drugs and prices for new drugs, too. They compare pricing in other countries and get explanations for some of the increases.

None of this can help consumers save money today, but a couple of online companies might.

Mark Cuban’s Cost Plus Drugs makes prescription drugs and shops them for verified patients. 

GoodRx aggregates the best deals and gives patients coupons to take to their local pharmacy. Co-founder and co-CEO Doug Hirsch says transparency efforts by several states are helpful, but they usually don’t give anywhere close to the best available price.

"Because there’s all sorts of rebates and discounts and co-pays and all sorts of other things that this will mask the true price," he said. "So ‘A’ for effort, but in terms of execution, you should continue to do your homework and use other sources, too."

And Minnesota is missing data on a few of the most popular drugs.

Gildemeister says the state is still working to get complete information from some pharmaceutical companies. But he’s hoping transparency — alongside the two online approaches to finding cheaper prescriptions — can push prices down.

"Collectively, I think that creates pressure, public relations pressure, you know ‘Why’d these prices go up? Why do they go up every January by 8-9-10-150%’," Gildemeister said.

The state wants to get public feedback on the dashboard, especially on pricing issues.