Former hedge funder Martin Shkreli, who hiked the price of an AIDS pill by 5500 percent overnight, is only the latest example of price gouging in the pharmaceutical industry, specifically targetting the largely unregulated U.S. market. But he isn’t the only one doing this, and drug prices have been skyrocketing across the country for years.
The following table illustrates how drug prices in the US can regularly be up to 10 times higher than in most other developed countries. Data comes from the International Federation of Health Plans (IFHP) 2013 Comparative Price Report.
The drugs in the table are life-saving for many patients, and the disparity between the costs in the United States and abroad should be shocking.
Nexium (for acid reflux)
Nexium is prescribed for gastroesophageal diseases (GERDs), which affect nearly 60 percent of the US adult population in a given year. 20 to 30 percent of Americans suffer weekly symptoms of GERDs, like acid reflux. While Nexium costs just $42 per month in the UK, the drug can cost up to $400 in the US.
Enbrel (for autoimmune disease)
Enbrel is similar to Daraprim (the drug Martin Shkreli’s company rose the price of to $750 per pill) in that doctors prescribe it for HIV/AIDS patients. While the drug is $1,117 per month under the UK’s National Health System (NHS), but the average health plan in the US charges between $1,946 and $4,006 per month for the drug.
Gleevec (for leukemia)
Gleevec, which is used to treat several types of cancers — including leukemia — is astronomically more expensive in the United States than in similar nations. The average US health plan charges between $5,482 and $11,007 for the drug, but the same drug is available for $989 per month in New Zealand, and $1,141 in Canada.
Copaxone (for multiple sclerosis)
Over 400,000 people in the US have multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating condition that affects the body’s central nervous system. Copaxone is used to treat the most severe symptoms and costs between $862 and $1,357 per month in Europe. But in the United States, Copaxone can easily cost between $3,900 and $4,018 each month, which is roughly the median monthly income in the US.
Celebrex (for pain)
According to the same report that the table’s data is based on, Celebrex is commonly prescribed for pain around the world. The drug costs just $51 in Canada but often costs between $139 and $431 per month in the U.S.
Cymbalta (for anxiety and depression, and also known as Duloxetine)
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 18% of US adults suffer from anxiety and depression in a given year. Cymbalta is one of the most common prescriptions for anxiety and depression and functions as an SSNRI (Selective Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor). The ADAA also estimates that those conditions cost the US approximately $42 billion each year. While the drug only costs $46 per month under an English NHS health plan, Cymbalta costs at least 4 times as much in the US — between $161 and $349 on most plans.
Humira (for rheumatoid arthritis)
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1.5 million people across the US have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Humira, which the IFHP says is commonly prescribed for RA, costs as little as $881 per month in Switzerland, and as much as $1,950 in Canada. But under US health plans, Humira costs up to $4,089 per month.
A lack of access to generic medications at a reasonable price in the United States is one of the main drivers of the overburdened U.S. health care system. Regulating the price of drugs, and access to generics, would save the United States billions. Access to generics via Medicare saved an approximate $239 billion in 2013 alone.