The United States’ Prescription Price Problem

Jordan Lumsey, Staff Writer

Everyone around the world, in one form or another, has relied on medication provided to them. Generally, these come in the form of prescriptions that help those who are in need of them to live their lives. These include those with incurable diseases such as Leukemia and Diabetes. For the millions of people who live with such diseases and who rely on prescription medications, the cost of these can often prevent them from having what they need to survive. This is why something needs to be done about the outrageous prices for the prescriptions that people need to live.

There must surely be a reason why the prices are so high for medications in the U.S. According to “Prescriptions Drug Prices in the U.S are twice as high: Here’s Why” by Joni Sweet from Healthline, “Prescription drugs in the United States on average cost around 2.5 times more than those same drugs do in other Western countries.” The truth is the price that people in the U.S. pay has been increasing for a while.

 It comes down to the fact that “name-brand” drug makers ask for more money for their drugs than for generic versions. Sweet notes a RAND Corporation study that states, “brand-name drugs appear to be the primary driver of price disparities in the United States compared to the 32 other nations analyzed in the study.”  

The cost to patients for purchasing name-brands over generic brands is just like how people typically pay more for name-brand cereal over the lesser-known generic brand of cereal at the store which is often quite a bit cheaper. This is generally the same with drugs as generic drugs are much cheaper than the ones from name-brand producers, notes Sweet. In the Rand Corporation study, Sweet found that “Generic drugs, which account for 84 percent of all drugs sold in the United States, are slightly cheaper here than in other countries.” This leads some to question why drug prices are so expensive, which, according to Andrew Mulcahy of Rand Corporation is mostly due to “…the brand name drugs that we pay through the nose” for.

“The true story of America’s sky-high prescription drug prices” by Sarah Kiff from Vox, notes the system of the hundreds of health insurers makes it more difficult for prices to be regulated. Kiff states, “The United States has no government panel that negotiates drug prices. There are thousands of health insurance plans all across the country. Each has to negotiate its prices with drugmakers separately.” This results in drug prices varying significantly. Kiff quotes Tom Sackville, president of the International Federation of Health Plans, who said, “The system is so divided, it’s easy to conquer.” This puts into better perspective why drug prices can be so staggering, the lack of regulation for set drug prices simply makes it too easy to price drugs however one wishes.

The out-of-control prices mean more profit for the drug-maker and more profit for those who invest in research to develop more innovative drugs. While the development of drugs to improve and lengthen people’s lives is good, the way it is happening is not sustainable for many. Sarah Kiff from Vox explains this by stating, “… the United States is subsidizing the rest of the world’s drug research by paying out high prices. If we stopped doing that, it would likely mean fewer dollars spent on pharmaceutical research…”

Diabetic Patients suffer from an incurable disease that will linger with them for the rest of their lives. For these people, the staggering prices make it even more difficult to get the prescriptions they require to live. “The High Cost of Insulin in the United States: An Urgent Call to Action” by S. Vincent Rajkumar from Mayo Clinic Proceedings supports this. Rajkumar states, “The most commonly used forms of analog insulin cost 10 times more in the United States than in any other developed country. There have been many other recent reports of deaths in patients with Type 1 Diabetes because of lack of affordable insulin.” This problem needs to be fixed, but it will only happen if the U.S. government takes the time to study it more deeply and truly bring change to prescription drug pricing.