The Myth of Drug Pricing

Drugs cost more in the US than in other countries.  No, we’re not talking knock-offs by Chinese manufacturers.  We’re talking the same pills you are taking.  Same companies.  Same manufacturing facilities.

The pharma industry asked the US Congress for extended patent protection in the US as an incentive to promote research into new drugs. That’s why you pay more — a lot more.  In fact, you may find that the price for some drugs in Canada is less than your insurance copay for the same product.  Check  However, note, Congress has made it illegal for US residents to purchase drugs outside the US.  People still do it.

I came across this when looking at prices for Advair, an inhaler that I use.  Within the US, list prices range from $310 to upwards of $400 for this product.  In Canada, it’s available without insurance for $79.

In 2013, a group of leukemia specialists wrote an open letter to the FDA arguing that the high costs of cancer drugs is placing patients’ lives at risk.   The lead author for the group was Dr. Hagop Kantarjian MD, from the Department of Leukemia at the University of Texas M.D. Andersen Cancer Center in Houston.  The group argued that 10% of patients are skipping medicines due to cost, placing their lives at risk.

Cancer drugs used to cost on the order of $5,000 per month — itself a steep amount if the patient’s insurance has a 20% copay.  Now the drugs have more than doubled to upwards of $10,000 per month.

In one case, imatinib (Gleevec, Novartis), the drug company TRIPLED the cost of the drug from $30,000 per year to $92,000 after more expensive drugs were introduced.  The original cost was ample in terms of covering investment in research; the increase was pure profit-taking.

In fact, the entire R&D incentive argument is a bad joke.  Pharma companies are more likely today to buy a small company that has developed a new product than to actually do research themselves.

In fact, Huffington reported in 2012 that for every $1 that drug companies spend on R&D, they spend $19 on marketing and PR.

So, what’s a responsible consumer supposed to do?

(1) Check third party websites for information on drug pricing.  Drugs can vary dramatically in cost just between US pharmacies.  Even if you have insurance, you’re paying these costs through your insurance rates.

(2)  Look at prices from Canada.  I’m not advising you to break the law, but you need to know what your options are.  You need to do what you need to do for your family.  Pushing this information at your pharmacist may encourage him to find ways to reduce your costs.

(3)  There are third party drug discount cards that can trim a few more dollars of what you are spending, even with insurance.  Many of these are free.

(4)  Scream at your Congressmen for putting up with the pharma charade.  In fact, the drug industry is one of the largest contributors to Congress (big surprise); they’re taking drug money in order to keep laws in place that rip you off.Type your paragraph here.

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