As patients in the United States struggle to pay for the medication they urgently need, generic drugs helped to make health care more affordable. However, a recent sharp increase in drug prices has prompted the US government to look into the matter.
Many medications have seen their prices sharply rise since eighteen months ago. Over the course of a year, the cost of about half the generic medications doubled while others increased by about five hundred percent. Generic medications are generally a more affordable alternative to the brand name drugs.
In the United States, new medications have their patents protected for a few years after they hit the market, allowing them to effectively charge whatever prices they want while recovering the huge costs of developing the drug. After a while, generic versions of the drugs become available at a lower cost than the brand name, allowing patients to get the medications they need at an affordable price.
The US is different than other countries in that they do not regulate the prices of medications. Canada and the United Kingdom, for example, place limits on how much drug manufacturers can charge for their products and negotiate rates with the manufacturers. As a result, the price of many prescription drugs is much lower in Canada, the UK, and other countries than in the US. This keeps crucial medications affordable for patients who are on fixed incomes and even for middle-class families struggling to pay their medical bills.
Despite the usual hands-off approach the US government has to medication prices, the recent price increase prompted them to intervene. On Tuesday, a Senate panel came together to investigate the sharp increase in the price of generic drugs. The worry is that the increasing prices will make it hard for people who are ill to get the medications they need to maintain their health, especially seniors.
Although brand name drug manufacturers can generally charge what they want for their medication, they are required to pay a rebate if the prices increase faster than inflation. However, manufacturers of the generic medications do not have this limitation, leaving them free to increase prices as they wish. In some cases, generic drug prices have risen so high in the US that they have surpassed the prices of brand name drugs in other countries.
Drug prices could have legitimate reasons for an increase. For example, an ingredient may suddenly be in short supply or go up in price. The senate is looking into whether the recent price increases were unavoidable or due to drug company greed.
Some of the medications that saw their prices increase recently were digoxin, a heart pill, doxycycline, an antibiotic, albuterol, an asthma pill, and a thyroid replacement hormone. All of these medications doubled in price, and all could have a major impact on a patient’s health. If someone were to stop taking these medications because they were unable to afford them, their quality of life or potentially their life itself could be in jeopardy.
To get the medications they need, many Americans have turned to an online Canadian pharmacy for affordable prescription drugs. Some price comparisons showed that an American generic medication to treat inflammatory bowel disease cost $1,625 while the name brand version was only about $155 in Canada. A particular statin, used to lower cholesterol, cost $230 in the US versus just over $20 in Canada. The huge price savings of buying medication from Canada can add up for the average American family.
The Senate will continue to investigate the recent generic drug price jump, getting to the bottom of how and why it happened. They may also consider legislation to help make medication more affordable for Americans.