People in the U.S. spend more money on medications than consumers in any other part of the world. Huffington Post published the alarming statistic that 25 percent of Americans are struggling to afford their daily medications.
Healthline reports that Canada sells medications for as much as 40 to 60 percent less than U.S. prices. That’s why it is no surprise that many consumers are ordering drugs from Canada as a way to save money. While it is prohibited for U.S. citizens to buy drugs from Canada, the laws are rarely enforced.
State legislators have introduced bills to address rising prescription drug prices, seeking relief for consumers who are often forced to choose between buying the medicine they need and paying utility bills or buying food. Oklahoma, Vermont, Utah, Colorado and West Virginia lawmakers have written bills that would open the door for buying medications from Canada on a wholesale basis to be sold to health plans and pharmacies. These bills are trailblazers meant to produce a positive impact on pricing that seems out of control.
Why Are Drugs So Expensive in the U.S.
The evidence is in about rising drug prices. Consumer Reports claims that drug costs rose 6.3 percent in 2016, which is comparatively three times the inflation rate for other industries based on Department of Labor data. Drug Watch reports there are several causes for the higher prices in the U.S., citing a lack of transparency, the ban against negotiating drug prices, consumer advertising expenses and the free pricing model consistent with the U.S. free-market system as the main contributing factors.
The U.S. can definitely learn some things from European practices that keep drug prices in check. In many cases, European governments set prices for drugs. Applying some much-needed political pressure on legislators is recommended. Consumers can write their congressman and ask for drug-pricing controls.
A public demand for greater transparency to disclose the details of deals made between benefit managers, private insurers and the drug companies would open the door for pricing discussions and competitive pressure. Currently, these deals are not public information. The National Academies believes that this pricing data should be public information and would help the Federal Trade Commission monitor and regulate the industry.
Yet another significant contributor to astronomical drug prices in the U.S. relates to a concerted effort by drug companies to block competition from generic versions of a drug. Generic drugs definitely apply downward pressure on drug prices. Drugmakers use a variety of tactics to keep prices up by abusing patent extension rules and restricted distribution systems designed to ensure drug safety. In the worst cases, drug companies pay generic drugmakers to stay out of the market.
Contacting the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) about consumer concerns is one way to try and encourage intervention by this agency into unfair business practices designed to manipulate pricing. Another option for consumers to have their voice heard is to join a national campaign organized by the Patients for Affordable Drugs for the purpose of passing an act called the CREATES Act. This piece of legislation would allow drug companies that manufacture generic drugs to sue branded companies that are participating in the practice of blocking generic competitors.
The Pharmaceutical Industry’s Argument Against Outside Foreign Drug Sources
The pharmaceutical industry spokespeople rely on fear-mongering tactics to discourage importing drugs from Canada. They associate the dangers inherent in drug abuse from illegally obtained opioids with buying medications from legitimate online Canadian pharmacies. Part of the official talking points include arguments about safety not being debatable and how imports would jeopardize safety. These points are not legitimate since there are many licensed and legitimate manufacturers available across the borders.
The Political Reality of Drug Pricing
There is already a law in place to support government intervention to help alleviate the drug pricing problem. The Medicare Modernization Act was passed in 2003 and gives the FDA the right to open the doors for drug imports if they are both safe and necessary for saving American consumers money. The savings potential is undeniable. For example, the drug Cosmegen that is used to treat cancer cost $1400 in the U.S. but can be purchased for a meager $20 or $30 from other countries.
Unfortunately, the law hasn’t been passed yet, in spite of the obvious benefits. The pharmaceutical industry argues that there is no way for Department of Health and Human Services to guarantee the safety of the drugs. Interestingly, this argument is not very legitimate considering that this is an executive agency that answers to the President and has ample resources to effectively tackle this problem.
It is difficult to understand why Americans are paying so much more money for prescription drugs than consumers in other countries. As American citizens struggle to buy medicine they desperately need, sometimes putting their health at risk by taking less than the prescribed amounts to save money, it is obvious that something must be done.
The U.S. risks losing its position as a respected world power when other countries continue to provide affordable healthcare and the U.S. is unable to do the same for its citizens. Much like education, healthcare is considered a right for every U.S. citizen, not a privilege. Based on this belief, Americans must unite to demand solutions.