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Bernie Sanders study reveals Americans pay four times more for medicine compared to wealthy countries

An analysis finds the US paying two to four times more for prescription drugs compared to Canada and France

Danielle Zoellner
New York
@dani__zoellner
Wednesday 28 April 2021 22:07
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A government study commissioned by Senator Bernie Sanders has revealed that Americans pay two to four times more on prescription medicine compared to other wealthy countries.

Analysis released by the Government Acountability Office (GAO) found that US consumers and insurers paid 2.82 times more than in Canada, 4.25 times more than in Australia, and 4.36 times more than in France for 20 brand-named prescription drugs in 2020.

France and Australia both operate on a universal, publicly funded healthcare system, which can explain some of the discrepancy in prescription drug prices.

Canada, similar to the United States, does not provide prescription drug coverage to all of its residents. But the analysis found that US residents typically paid two to eight times more than Canadians when paying for the same prescription drug.

For example, 30 tablets of Xarelto, which treats blood clots, costs $558.33 in the US but just $85.44 in Canada. When purchasing 28 tablets of Epclusa to treat Hepatitis C, an infection that attacks the liver, it costs $36,743 in the US compared to $17,023.63 in Canada, according to the analysis.

The GAO examined a sampling of 41 brand-name medications with the highest expenditures and use in the Medicare Part D program, which means that current federal law prohibits the negotiation of prices between pharmaceutical companies. 

"This important GAO study confirms what we all already know: the pharmaceutical industry is ripping off the American people," Mr Sanders, an independent of Vermont, said in a statement. "The time is long overdue for the United States to do what every major country on earth does: negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies to lower the outrageous price of prescription drugs."

In March, Mr Sanders unveiled a trio of bills designed to lower the cost of prescription drugs and help Americans be more compeititive in the global market.

At the time of unveiling the three bills, the senator said prescription drug reform could fit into other reconcilation packages under the Biden administration, such as President Joe Biden's plan to invest in infrastructure.

But Mr Biden's $1.8tn infrastructure plan ultimately left out popular progressive initiatives that would alter the healthcare system in America, including lowering the Medicare eligibility age and allowing the federal government to directly negotiate prescription drug prices. These policy ideas were both left out despite receiving overwhelming approval from the US public.

The release of the GAO study, commissioned by Mr Sanders, comes on the same day Mr Biden will hold his first joint address to Congress where he's expected to mention his $1.8tn American Families Plan.

Mr Sanders told reporters on Tuesday that addressing prescription drug prices will end up in the final version of the bill “if I have anything to say about it”.

The American Families Plan was unlikely to receive support from Republicans, which could force it into a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process – similar to what happened when Congress passed Mr Biden's Covid-19 relief plan.

The White House has indicated that Mr Biden was committed to lowering prescription drug prices and the age in which someone can enrol in Medicare, but that commitment was just not included in the American Families Plan.

Margarida Jorge, campaign director for Lower Drug Prices Now, was one advocate pushing for the Biden administration to act now on prescription drug prices.

"Lowering drug prices for seniors, people with disabilities, and patients struggling to afford everything from insulin to cancer medications is a top healthcare priority for millions of Americans who can't wait anymore for accessible life-saving medicines," Ms Jorge said in a statement released on Wednesday. "Biden has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to lowering drug prices as part of making healthcare affordable for everyone. The time to act on that promise is now."

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