A few weeks back, I wrote about the House Ways and Means Committee international drug price report, which very competently compared U.S. patented drug prices with 11 other countries. The report found that 79 drugs, ones that account for 60% of Medicare drug spending, are on average priced just under 75% lower internationally vs. the U.S. when looking at ex-factory, meaning wholesale prices.
I half-joked that the Committee was recommending looking abroad for lower drug prices. They were not focusing on drug importation. However, the Committee held a hearing yesterday in which foreign drug prices were central to the debate. The focus of the hearing was a bill, H.R. 3, Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which seeks to lower drug prices in Medicare by empowering Medicare to negotiate with drug companies prices on certain, generally very expensive drugs. There’s a backstop in the bill if the drug companies won’t negotiate in which drugs would be priced at 120% of the average price of six high-income countries. That’s called international reference pricing. The bottom line here is that Congress is now shining a bright light on how much more expensive the “same” drugs are in the U.S. vs. abroad.
Sure enough, Congress’ work inspired us to look at those same drugs. We collected and analyzed prices on those drugs from the Committee’s report that are also available for personal import from international online pharmacies and for which we had the average U.S. retail price. Our numbers in the PharmacyChecker analysis were astonishingly close to the House Ways and Means Committee. For 34 drugs that met the aforementioned criteria, we found a potential average savings of 72% overall. That included international prices from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Turkey and the UK. When we just looked at Canadian pharmacies, the savings went down to 63%.
Here’s one example of how the two reports, from the House Ways and Means Committee and PharmacyChecker, line up. The drug Multaq, according to the Committee, was $10.51 per unit in the U.S. vs. $1.53 in the UK. That’s an 85% difference. PharmacyChecker looked at the price of 30 pills of Multaq. The average retail price was $814.38 in the U.S. vs. a low price of $110 from an international online pharmacy. That’s an 86% savings.
For personal drug importation and online access to affordable medicines advocates, or even advocates of simply telling the truth, this is very important. Pharma and even the FDA say things like, “if the drug price you see online seems too good to be true, it probably is not true.” But that’s absurd. As the Committee’s report clearly showed, pharmacies in other countries do charge much lower prices. Some of those pharmacies are selling those drugs internationally. It’s not too good to be true. It is true.
I was asked by someone yesterday whether we believe legislative reforms to bring down drug prices are not needed because of the online access to the lower prices. Hell no. Speaking for myself, I believe that drug prices need to come down here, and legislative reforms are definitely and badly needed. Safe international online pharmacies are a lifeline for consumers, Americans, and people everywhere, who are falling through the cracks on accessing prescription drugs.