Medicines relatively affordable, price index reveals

New figures show medicines in Australia are cheap in comparison to other countries

US medicines are 307% more expensive than the median global cost but Australian medicines are 25% cheaper, according to the 2019 Medicine Price Index released by UK ‘digital hospital’ Medbelle.

The organisation selected 13 prevalent pharmaceutical compounds and compared them dollar-for-dollar to see how much medicines cost in different countries—regardless of whether they were covered by a healthcare system or paid for out of pocket by patients.

They looked at sildenafil, pregabalin, atorvastatin, salbutamol, azithromycin, insulin glargine, tacrolimus, drospirenone / ethinylestradiol, fluoxetine, alprazolam, lisinopril, tenofovir and adalimumab.

Average prices of both brand and their generic versions were included in order to have a complete profile of each medication.

Dosage size was then standardised in order to make the price comparable.

“Once all these figures were collected, we were able to calculate the median price for each compound around the world, as well as how far the actual price per dose in each country deviates from the median global cost,” Medbelle explains.

The results highlight the disparity in what patients pay for the same medicine across the world, says the organisation.

Australia came 11th on the list of 50 countries based on deviation from median price, with medicine costs (both branded and generic drugs) in the country 25% cheaper than the world median.

Generics in Australia were 36% cheaper than the median, while branded drugs were 7% cheaper.

In comparison, the United States is the most expensive country with their medicines at 307% deviation above the median global cost.

Generic drugs in the US were 97% more expensive while branded drugs were a whopping 422% higher than the median cost.

The cheapest medicines of the 50 countries were in Thailand at 94% cheaper than the median price.

Lowest prices within Australia for distinct compounds were sildenafil which was 62% lower than the median price and atorvastatin at 64% lower.

Meanwhile alprazolam costs in Australia were 219% higher than the world median price and insulin glargine was 143% more expensive than the median.

Anthony Tassone, president of the Pharmacy Guild Victoria branch, said the study of international drug price comparisons “confirmed what community pharmacy has known for years – that PBS reform has been very effective in cost containment and that medicine prices in Australia are lower than in most other countries”.

“It has been estimated that PBS reform will deliver savings of $20 billion over the forward estimates since their introduction to the end of the 6CPA period,” Mr Tassone told AJP.

“It would be very hard to find any other part of the healthcare system that has undergone such significant reform as community pharmacy to deliver these quantum of savings for the benefit of all Australians for the PBS listing of new medicines and continued access to life saving treatments.

“Critics of the community pharmacy sector and community pharmacy agreements – and there’s some usual suspects – should acknowledge and understand these important findings, namely that medicines are cheaper in Australia than most other countries, new index and across 13 common medicines, generic drug prices are 36% cheaper than the global median.”

Mr Tassone argues that the PBS is delivering affordable medicines for Australians. 

“In saying that there are still patients who struggle with meeting the cost of their healthcare and medicines, particularly those with chronic or multiple conditions,” he says.

“Our policy settings around medicines subsidies and equity of access should focus on our sickest and neediest. 

“With the annual and projected spend of the PBS essentially flat lining, it should not be seen as a haven for any further cost cutting and budget saving measures that could compromise meeting the objectives of our National medicines policy – namely equity of access and medication safety.”

See the full results here

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