Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Cost of Claritin nothing to sneeze at

By Lauran Neergaard
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Allergy sufferers who rejoiced when Claritin went over the counter are now dealing with an additional headache: At nearly $1 a pill, nonprescription Claritin is more expensive for insured patients who were used to a $10 co-pay for a whole bottle.

Many insurance companies are also making it harder to get prescriptions for other drugs, charging $35 to $50 for competitors Allegra or Zyrtec. Some demand proof that patients tried, and failed, Claritin for a few weeks before even allowing their doctors to write a prescription for an alternative.

"It's a real hassle," says Dr. Gordon Raphael, a Bethesda, Md., allergist who reports being inundated with calls from patients desperate for him to certify they need a new medication.

Patients rethinking their allergy choices because of cost could find that other medicines actually control their symptoms better.

Although Claritin once was the best-selling prescription allergy medicine, specialists like Raphael cite research showing there are more-effective choices for the severely afflicted.

In fact, study after study finds prescription steroid nasal sprays - sold under such names as Flonase, Nasacort and Nasonex - the most-effective hay fever treatment.

Yet by far, most allergy sufferers pop pills.

If Claritin worked well for you, stick with it, allergists say.

The only nonsedating option available without a prescription, it is most helpful for mild to moderate allergies.

While the well-insured may fuss at the new OTC price, they won't have the time and expense of a doctor's visit.

And the uninsured will pay far less for Claritin than they had been.

Also, generic versions have just begun selling at 65 to 80 cents a pill; look for Claritin's chemical name, loratadine.

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