As debate intensifies over the cost of medicines, a new analysis found that prescription drug prices were on average 2.5 times more expensive in the U.S. than in 32 other countries. And that gap widened to 3.4 times costlier when looking specifically at brand-name medications.
At the same time, prices for generic drugs were slightly lower in the U.S. than in most other nations. Specifically, the U.S. spent an average of $0.84 cents for a generic that would have cost an average of $1 elsewhere, according to the report from RAND Corporation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization.
Generic drugs account for 84% of drugs sold nationally, but only 12% of spending.
"Brand-name drugs are the primary driver of the higher prescription drug prices in the U.S.," report co-author Andrew Mulcahy said in a press release.
"We found consistently high U.S. brand-name prices regardless of our methodological decisions," said Mulcahy, a senior health policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.
The new RAND report is based on 2018 data and compares U.S. drug prices to those in other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Britain, France, and Italy generally have the lowest prescription drug prices, while Canada, Germany and Japan tend to have higher prices, the data showed.
Meanwhile, some of the highest-priced drugs in the United States are brand-name drugs that can cost thousands of dollars per dose and are used to treat life-threatening illness such as hepatitis C or cancer, the researchers said.
Drug spending nationally increased by 76% between 2000 and 2017, and the costs are expected to increase faster than other areas of healthcare over the next decade as new, expensive specialty drugs are approved, according to the researchers.
"Many of the most-expensive medications are the biologic treatments that we often see advertised on television," Mulcahy said.
The gap between prices was even higher for brand-name drugs, with U.S. prices 3.44 times more than those in the other countries. Meanwhile, prices for generic drugs are slightly lower in the U.S. than in most other countries. Unbranded generic drugs account for 84% of drugs sold in the U.S. by volume, the researchers found, but only 12% of U.S. spending.
“The vast majority of prescription drugs [in the U.S.] are for generic, and there, the U.S. does pretty well,” says Andrew Mulcahy, PhD, a senior policy researcher at RAND and the lead author of the report. “But for brand-name drugs, we pay much higher.”
One of TSCL’s top priorities again this year is for legislation to reduce the costs of prescription drugs. It is outrageous that we in the United States pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for the prescription drugs that we urgently need to preserve our health.