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U.S. Pays 10 Times More for Prescription Drugs than Other Countries

Oct 22, 2015 1:29 pm

Prescription drugs may cost up to 10 times more in the United States than they do in other countries, according to a 2013 Comparative Price Report was released last month by the International Federation of Health Plans (IFHP). Results are based on surveys of the prices of prescription drugs from member plans.

The US has the highest drug prices and costs associated with medical care that bears no relation to health outcomes. For example, while the average monthly cost of Enbrel and Humira in the US was ~$2200, but averaged $880 to $1000 in Switzerland. Similarly, Nexium cost $215 in the US, but was a mere $23 in the Netherlands, $42 in England, and $58 in Spain. The average price of the multiple sclerosis medication Copaxone stood at $3,903 in the US, but only $862 in England, $898 in New Zealand, and $1,191 in Spain. The depression drug Cymbalta was sold for $194 in the US, but for only $46 in England, $52 in the Netherlands, and $110 in Canada.

The survey also compared the average hospital costs along with the prices of a number of medical procedures. The average hospital cost per day in 2013 was $4,923 in the United States, while it was $481 in Spain, $702 in Argentina, and $1,308 in Australia. The average cost of bypass surgery was $75,345 in the US, compared to $15,742 in the Netherlands, $16,247 in Spain, and $42,130 in Australia. And while an angioplasty would run patients $27,907 on average in the US, it would only be $5,246 in Argentina, $5,295 in the Netherlands, and $8,477 in Australia. In 2013, the year in which the survey data was drawn, the prices of 227 of the top branded drugs widely used by older patients in the United States went up by an average of 12.9 percent—eight times higher than the rate of inflation, according to a report presented to the Senate last year.

Most in the US recognize that they pay higher prices than those in Canada, Mexico, and Western Europe for the same prescription drug. Yet a Kaiser poll also found that 72 percent of those polled thought that the cost of prescription drugs was unreasonable. Unfortunately these costs were not associated with outcomes as the US consistently underperforms on most measures of health outcomes relative to other industrialized countries, often ranking last in comparison to other countries - Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to this subject

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