US ranks #1 in the world for sky-high cost of vital medicines

New study on global drug prices finds that Americans have by far the most expensive medication – from Lipitor to Xanax.

Medicine Price Index - Top and bottom
Medicine Price Index - US
Medicines for health conditions such as epilepsy, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and asthma cost much more in the US than elsewhere in the world [Medbelle]

Prescription drugs in the United States rank as the most expensive by a long shot, a report published this week has found, with the average cost of medications in the US exceeding the global median price by some 300 percent.

The study by digital healthcare provider Medbelle – based in the United Kingdom – reveals substantial differences in prescription drug prices around the world.

The US was followed by Germany and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as having the most expensive medicines, while Kenya and Malaysia have the cheapest.

The index compares the affordability – or lack thereof – for the same drugs across 50 countries, showing how prices in each nation deviate from the global median.

“The medications chosen for comparison span a variety of common conditions: from heart disease and asthma, to anxiety disorders and erectile dysfunction,” said a press release accompanying the study results.

“The average prices of both the brand compound and their generic versions were included in order to have a complete profile of each medication,” it added, saying that the dosage size was also normalised.

Medicine Price Index - Top and bottom
The 2019 Medicine Price Index shows that patients in the US face substantial economic barriers to receiving decent healthcare [Medbelle]

Of the 13 vital pharmaceutical medications that were evaluated on a dollar-for-dollar basis – whether paid by individuals or care providers – blood pressure drug Lisinopril (branded as Zestril) showed the greatest deviation in the US, with a price tag that exceeded the global median by some 2,682 percent.

A long list of potentially life-saving medicines are extremely costly in the US when compared with world averages.

Lipitor, a cholesterol and cardiovascular drug, is 2,175 percent more expensive in the US than the global median, while Zithromax, an antibiotic for bacterial infections, is 1,755 percent more expensive.

Xanax, which is prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders, costs 2,568 percent more in the US. Prozac, used for depression and other mental illnesses, is 2,124 percent more expensive in the US than the world median.

Insulin – critical for managing diabetes, is also priced far higher in the US than elsewhere.

“Americans pay around five and a half times more than the global median for life-saving [insulin],” said Daniel Kolb, cofounder and managing director at Medbelle.

“To put it into perspective, imagine if an everyday item like a gallon of milk cost $3.50 in Canada, but $22.85 across the border in the US.”

For Viagra (generically known as Sildenafil), the difference is even starker, with US prices 660 percent higher than the median – followed by Taiwan and Switzerland. Ireland, Egypt and Argentina have the least expensive versions.

While patents, transportation costs, taxation, purchasing power and income levels all influence the cost of drugs globally, “the deviation unveiled by this study is extreme”, said Kolb.

“It is our hope that this index can be used to further the discussion around the immense inequality between countries when it comes to the accessibility and cost-effectiveness of healthcare,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera