04/19/2006 10:20 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Costco's Full Drug Price Beats Privatized Medicare Part D? Let's try Costco Care

How is it that Costco, a lean and efficient but still for-profit company, can provide consumers with prescription medications for a lower price than a government program subsidized by hundreds of billions, yes billions, of taxpayer dollars? The only possible answer is that the privatized prescription drug "benefit" being forced on U.S. seniors is meant chiefly to pour profits into Big Pharma, not to help Medicare recipients get a better bang for their pharmaceutical buck.

The LA times story by Valerie Reitman describes seniors who shopped hard to find what looked like the best Medicare Part D benefit for them, only to go to Costco to pick it up and find out that the discount chain's over the counter price was less than they would be charged under Part D. Martin Brower, 77, found that his blood pressure medication would cost him $1.32 per pill, and be limited to 30 pills, under his "benefit." Costco would sell him, without subsidy, 100 pills for $1.13 each. Other examples followed.

It's like the government subsidizing me to pay full price at Brooks Brothers but refusing to help me pay half price for the same suit at Costco.

Try figuring out what you'd actually pay for a drug at the official Medicare web site. Nope, can't be done, though with a lot of time and patience you can find out whether the drugs you take are covered by a particular plan (though this can change monthly, while you or your loved one can change plan only yearly). You can find out your copays and discounts, but not the price on which they are based. Apparently, it's the Brooks Brothers price, as close as possible to what pharmaceutical companies want to charge in the U.S., which pays the highest drug prices in the developed world. Plan D, which is nothing like the efficient and cost-controlling Medicare itself, is subsidizing administrative bloat, high profits and multimillion-dollar CEO salaries.

If Congress, which is completely subservient to the pharmaceutical industry, won't let Medicare itself bargain with manufacturers to reduce the cost to government of these pills, maybe the real private-sector solution is to just let Costco's pharmacy division run the whole program. At least when you go to their web site, they list the (unsubsidized) retail prices of their drugs right up front. Not only that, the people they'd have to hire to take over Part D would have medical and other benefits, just like all Costco employees. What a deal.