Americans Pay More For Drugs Than Most Countries

By Paul Gaita 10/16/15

Some countries spend pennies for a drug that Americans pay hundreds for.

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United States citizens pay from three to 16 times more for prescription drugs than residents of the United Kingdom and many other countries, according to new analysis conducted by Reuters.

Their research, which was buttressed by a similar study conducted by the University of Liverpool, examined profits netted by the world’s 20 top-selling medications, which include Humira, the cancer drug Rituxan, Crestor, and Abilify. Both research teams found that American consumers were found to pay three times more for these medications than those in Britain, while prices for the same drugs were six times lower in Brazil and 16 times lower in India.

Profits from these medications accounted for 15% of global pharmaceutical spending in 2014, and the United States proved to be the most lucrative market for pharmaceutical companies like Merck, Pfizer and Roche, which produced the medications included in the Top 20 list.

Because drug pricing in the United States is driven by market competition and not by government regulation, companies have been allowed to escalate prices when other countries have either capped or decreased costs. Between 2008 and 2014, the price tag for top-name brand drugs in the U.S. rose 127%, while the cost of common household goods rose just 11% during the same time period.

The U.S. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) dismissed the findings, stating that they did not take into account discounts generated by insurer negotiations, which have in many cases, reduced drug prices significantly. The PhRMA also noted that 90% of all medicines prescribed to U.S. patients are available in generic form. However, according to Reuters, the rate of production for generic versions of certain top-selling drugs has been slow, and analysis showed that these older drugs were frequently the ones that showed the greatest differential between prices in other countries.

“It shows that the U.S. drug pricing situation isn’t just a matter of isolated cases like Turing Pharmaceuticals,” said University of Liverpool drug pricing expert Andrew Hill. The company’s CEO, Martin Shkreli, drew international furor for raising the price of Daraprim, a drug used to treat parasitic infection in cancer and AIDS patients, from $13.50 to $750 per pill before reversing his decision. The same pill, sold in Britain by GlaxoSmithKline, costs $0.66.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.