U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it's official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you're on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Department of Health and Human Services

Office of Inspector General -- AUDIT

"Review of Pharmacy Acquisition Costs for Drugs Reimbursed Under the Medicaid Prescription Drug Program of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene," (A-06-95-00066)

February 12, 1997

Complete Text of Report is available in PDF format (851K). Copies can also be obtained by contacting the Office of Public Affairs at 202-619-1343.


At the request of the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a nationwide review of pharmacy acquisition costs for drugs reimbursed under the Medicaid prescription drug program. Since most States reimburse pharmacies for Medicaid prescriptions using a formula which discounts the average wholesale price (AWP), the objective of our review was to develop an estimate of the discount below AWP at which pharmacies purchase brand name and generic drugs.

To accomplish our objective, we selected a random sample of 11 States from a universe of 48 States and the District of Columbia. Arizona was excluded from the universe of States because the Medicaid drug program is a demonstration project using prepaid capitation financing and Tennessee was excluded because of a waiver received to implement a statewide managed care program for Medicaid. Maryland was one of the sample States selected, as well as California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Additionally, we selected a sample of Medicaid pharmacy providers from each State and obtained invoices of their drug purchases. The pharmacies were selected from each of five categories--rural-chain, rural-independent, urban-chain, urban-independent and non-traditional pharmacies (nursing home pharmacies, hospital pharmacies, etc.). We included the non-traditional category so as to be able to exclude those pharmacies from our overall estimates. We believed such pharmacies purchase drugs at substantially greater discounts than retail pharmacies, and including them would have inflated our percentages.

We compared each invoice drug price to AWP for that drug and calculated the percentage, if any, by which the invoice price was discounted below AWP. We then projected those differences to the universe of pharmacies in each category for each State and calculated an overall estimate for each State. Additionally, we projected the results from each State to estimate the nationwide difference between AWP and invoice price for each category.

In Maryland, we obtained pricing information from 26 pharmacies. Specifically, we obtained 1,259 invoice prices for brand name drugs, and 823 invoice prices for generic drugs. For Maryland, the overall estimate of the extent that invoice prices were discounted below AWP was 18.7 percent for brand name drugs and 41.9 percent for generic drugs. The national estimates are 18.3 percent and 42.5 percent, respectively. The estimates combine the results for four categories of pharmacies including rural-chain, rural-independent, urban-chain and urban-independent and exclude the results obtained from non-traditional pharmacies.

We are recommending that the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (State Agency) consider the results of this review as a factor in any future changes to pharmacy reimbursement for Medicaid drugs. We will share the information with HCFA from all 11 States in a consolidation report for their use in evaluating the overall Medicaid drug program.

The Secretary of the State Agency responded to our draft report in a letter dated, November 7, 1996. The Secretary thanked us for the report and suggested that linking AWP to the average manufactures price of the Federal rebate program would make AWP more valid.