Prescription drug prices, really?

The cost of a script is astronomical, right? Well maybe not.

For the most popularly prescribed prescription drugs in the United States, the average out-of-pocket retail cost ranges from $12.41- $97.57.

Americans spend about $1,200 on prescriptions drugs a year.

The pricing of prescription drugs is too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say the political rhetoric is very misleading. Virtually no one pays the often referenced full retail price.

Discount programs, use of generic alternatives, and what is paid by various insurance plans cut the out of pocket cost for most people. But keep in mind the most expensive drugs are not the pill or capsule you get from the pharmacy, many are injectable. They are specialty drugs.

Look up the reasons for high drug prices and you will see greed, monopoly control, and administrative complexity, but all that, while a factor, is not the full story. For example, the United States and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise their products directly to the public. Why shouldn’t we try stopping such advertising before going to price controls?

And speaking of price controls, that’s what other countries do and some limit the drugs available too. That’s what politicians mean when they talk about “negotiating” drug prices.

To some extent the United States is the safety valve for other countries. What would be the consequences of the US limiting prices to the same level as Canada? Would the ability to develop new drugs be hammered. Would those costs merely be shifted to government? Would some very expensive drugs treating less common diseases be limited? I don’t have the answers, but I am certain there are consequences behind just lower prices.

And then there is this.

“Studies have consistently shown that 20 percent to 30 percent of medication prescriptions are never filled, and that approximately 50 percent of medications for chronic disease are not taken as prescribed,” according to a review in Annals of Internal Medicine. People who do take prescription medications — whether it’s for a simple infection or a life-threatening condition — typically take only about half the prescribed doses.

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