Big Pharma Drug Price Gouging of American Consumers Continues

A new report from Reuters suggests that pricing pressures resulting from Obamacare may close U.S. and international prescription drug price disparities – with U.S. prices more than double those of other high-income countries - within three to five years. As good as that could be, it’s a long way away for Americans who currently struggle with drug prices. With tens of millions going without meds due to cost, the problem is more urgent than ever.

U.S. brand-name drug prices continue their vigorous rise, in stark contrast to international price declines. Brand-name U.S. drug prices rose 11% in 2011, almost triple the 3% inflation rate. Meanwhile, prices in Canada stayed the same, and actually dropped in France and Switzerland by 3 and 4 percent, respectively.

Reuters politely explains this gap:

“Companies like Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca have grown dependent on higher U.S. prices to generate profits as generic rivals to their best-selling medicines enter the world market, Europe’s government-run health plans clamp down on spending and sales growth in emerging markets stutters.”

Perhaps these price increases explain the 50 million Americans between the ages 19-64 and the 20% of Medicare enrollees who do not fill a prescription due to cost each year.

Look at the price of Januvia, a drug mentioned in the Reuters article. Its wholesale price is 75% higher in the U.S. than in Austria. Our own research shows the price gap at the retail level. The price at a local pharmacy for 90 pills is $978. It costs only $375 online from a verified Canadian pharmacy. That’s 62% cheaper.

Hopefully, the Affordable Care Act will lead to reduced drug prices domestically, but that will take some time. Until then international online pharmacies will remain a lifeline for Americans.

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Our last post highlighted the end-of-the-month release of the long-awaited generic version of Lipitor, the most popular cholesterol-lowering drug in America. Brand-name Lipitor, manufactured by drug giant Pfizer, has been one of the key contributors to American’s high drug bills for the past 15 years. A generic version will mean massive savings for some and basic affordability for many.

Last week, however, the New York Times shared that Pfizer (unsurprisingly) wants to block access to that affordable generic. Pfizer is going to offer “large discounts for benefit managers that block the use of generic versions of Lipitor” – “When patients submit a prescription for a generic version of Lipitor, they are to be given Lipitor instead.” So, those covered by the benefit managers who accept the discount will end up paying the same high co-pay, despite the availability of a lower priced drug!

These tactics by the largest drug manufacturer to keep drug prices higher are disappointing but not surprising. After all, in addition to lobbying the U.S. government to prevent safe personal drug importation, it funds programs to scare Americans away from buying its own medication at a lower price from Canada and other countries.

Pfizer’s latest move seems to only affect Americans with health insurance who, under the Pfizer/benefit manager deal, would pay $25 monthly co-pays (instead of $10 per month) – that’s $75 for a three month supply. That’s a stark contrast to Americans without health insurance who can pay $535.00 at a local CVS in New York City. By comparing prices of verified online pharmacies at PharmacyChecker.com, the uninsured may at least knock their monthly brand name Lipitor costs to $85.70.

Fortunately, due to the economics of generic drug competition, generic Lipitor prices will eventually offer great savings to the uninsured and we’ll be keeping you updated as those new products come to market.

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Affordable Generic Lipitor Coming to Your Bricks and Mortar U.S. Pharmacy Soon

As reported in the The Inquisitr, due to generic competition, Lipitor prices are going to plummet in the near future, a relief not only to American patients but to U.S. doctors who often find their patients not taking their cholesterol medication due to cost. In discussing his patients, Dr. Thomas Haffey stated in the article:

They often make tough decisions about whether they eat or whether they take the medicines… Any time you can reduce the costs of quality health care, we certainly are happy and encouraged about that.

High drug prices in the United States lead to 10s of millions of Americans not taking needed medication each year. The end of Pfizer’s patent on Lipitor means that Americans will now be able to more easily afford Atorvastatin – the generic name for Lipitor – in local U.S. pharmacies. As of the end of this month, according The Missourian, a three-month supply of generic Lipitor will cost $30. And the Inquisitr article suggests that within six months generic Lipitor will be priced at $5 for a one-month supply.

To maintain market share, Pfizer, the manufacturer of Lipitor, may come up with some competitive sales strategies. For instance, Pfizer may cut costs for insured Americans to only $4/month co-pays. Pfizer is also pushing to market an over-the-counter version of Lipitor, however it is not yet approved for sale.

According to our research, U.S. prices for a 90-day supply of Lipitor 20mg at a New York City CVS costs $535.99, compared to $85.70 at the lowest cost online pharmacy approved by PharmacyChecker.com – a savings of 84%. So if you want the brand name drug you may be better off with low-cost online pharmacies. But, come the end of November, the best prices for generic Lipitor will soon be available in the good old USA.

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NABP July 2011 Progress Report – Is Turning a Blind Eye Toward Needy Americans Really Progress?

In its July 2011 Progress Report, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) continues to do a disservice to Americans by classifying safe pharmacies in other countries as “rogue.” Out of the 8,000 sites “Not Recommended” by NABP, PharmacyChecker.com research shows 53 are safe international online pharmacies.

It is laudable and helpful to Americans when the NABP exposes truly rogue pharmacies, i.e., those that sell Americans fake drugs or even real drugs but without a prescription. However, the NABP has chosen, year after year, to lump in with these rogues, any pharmacy that is not based in the United States.

How can the NABP do this? Unfortunately, U.S. law says it is, under most circumstances, illegal for Americans to get their medicine from Canada or other countries. So NABP freely uses terms like “rogue,” “illicit,” and “illegal” when describing any foreign pharmacy. We see no reason to mislead the public into thinking that safe foreign pharmacies pose a danger and belong in the same group as rogue pharmacies. (more…)

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The Protect Intellectual Property Act – S.968 Will Prevent Access To Medicines

Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed S. 968, Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, also known as the Protect IP Act. Its passage represents a real threat to Americans’ access to safe and affordable medications online and we hope that as the bill makes its way through the legislative process it will be amended appropriately.

Essentially, the bill will make it easier to crackdown on rogue pharmacy sites selling fake meds and not requiring a prescription, which is great; however, it will also encourage actions to block Americans’ access to reputable and affordable non-U.S. online pharmacies that sell genuine medication and require a prescription, which are a lifeline for uninsured Americans. That’s because of Section 5, which includes in its definition of “infringing sites” online pharmacies that sell medications to Americans that are not manufactured in a facility approved by the FDA. (more…)

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Generic prescriptions are on the rise, as doctors are prescribing them, and pharmacies are filling them, now more than ever. We recently wrote that the percentage of generic scripts being dispensed rose to 78% last year. But the popularity for generics – attributed to the significantly lower price tag compared to brand name drugs – is expected to take on a whole new meaning, as the patents for some blockbuster brand name drugs expire this year; this is also known as the “Patent Cliff”.

The biggest prize, Pfizer’s Lipitor (for Cholesterol), the number one selling drug in the U.S., goes generic later this year (November 2011); and Plavix (a blood thinner) and Actos (for Diabetes) will follow (May 2012 and August 2012, respectively). As patents run out, these and other popular prescription drugs will be far more affordable in the U.S., since generic drug prices tend to be lower here than in other countries. (more…)

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A new post on RxRights.org explains how the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP)’s Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program wrongly misleads consumers and the media by tagging all non-U.S. online pharmacies that sell to Americans as “rogue.” Essentially, that program’s list includes dangerous rogue online pharmacies along with reputable online pharmacies that meet high standards of safety but are simply not based in the United States. American consumers should expect more from pharmacy regulatory authorities and deserve to be properly informed. By adding properly verified international online pharmacies to the list, NABP scares Americans away from safe and affordable sources of medication. RxRight.org alerts the public that NABP’s program was sponsored with a grant from the drug giant Pfizer.

The post also deconstructs the ridiculous notion that only “FDA-approved” drugs are safe.  It explains that the same exact drug purchased from a Canadian pharmacy (or any non-U.S. pharmacy) that is sold in the United States is “Not FDA-approved.” How can that be if it’s the same drug? There are many reasons, but one primary reason is labeling. FDA-approved drugs include approval of the drug’s specific labeling. That means that virtually all drugs sold in Canada that are compositionally identical to those sold in the United States are not “FDA-approved” because their labeling is different (such as including information in French and English), but of course they are equally as safe.

PharmacyChecker.com applauds RxRights.org for exposing misinformation campaigns sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry meant to scare Americans away from safe and affordable online pharmacies, wrongly inform the media, and shape our nation’s laws and regulations.

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WHO Statistic on Online Counterfeit Drugs Often Misused

In speeches and writings about online pharmacies, many experts and professionals in the pharmaceutical and U.S. pharmacy industries cite data from the World Health Organization (WHO) claiming that 50% of drugs sold on the Internet are counterfeit. A recent example is an article published last week in US Pharmacist.  This statistic is often offered as “evidence” that all online pharmacies, particularly outside the U.S., are dangerous.  However, the WHO’s information is often misused and the statistic’s factual basis is questionable.

The actual WHO statistic is that in “50% of cases, medicines purchased over the Internet from illegal sites that conceal their physical address have been found to be counterfeit.” WHO goes onto qualify this statement, noting that “Some Internet pharmacies are legal operations, established to offer clients convenience and savings. They deliver medications from government-licensed facilities and sell only on the basis of a prescription.” This is a critical point which we have made many times on this blog, but is commonly omitted by those whose work is backed by the pharmaceutical and U.S. pharmacy industries. (more…)

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Online Pharmacies, the Obama Administration and Public Health

The Obama administration is taking actions to address the illegal sale of counterfeit prescription drugs online. These efforts can benefit patients who could fall victim to rogue online pharmacies, but may also limit access to safe and affordable medication provided by non-U.S. international online pharmacies, many based in Canada. Millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans have purchased prescription drugs through, and relied on, such websites to afford medicine.

Last Monday, the White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC), Victoria Espinel, stated that her office was in discussions with Google, Go Daddy, American Express, and Microsoft about cracking down on online pharmacies, and that an announcement about IPEC’s plans moving forward will be made within weeks. This statement seems to be a follow-up to a late-September meeting held by IPEC, which brought together domain registrars and registries to discuss voluntary protocols to combat the sale of non-controlled counterfeit medication online. As we reported, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) notably declined its invitation to attend this meeting, and at least one of its attendees, Go Daddy general counsel Christine Jones, as reported on Domain Incite, communicated that intellectual property protection was not discussed and voluntary protocols were not agreed to. Jones also shared her understanding that an “FDA solution” might be used to combat counterfeit drugs being sold online. Espinel’s statement last week suggests the same. (more…)

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