The High Cost of Medication in the United States 

Americans pay more for prescription medication than residents of any other country. In fact, we’re likely to spend over $1,200 on medications each year. That’s the most anyone pays. While our healthcare system has received political attention on the international stage, Americans are unsure how to move forward because of the questions and trade-offs necessary for innovation versus affordable prescriptions for all income levels. 

There is absolutely no denying the fractured state of the American healthcare system. Although the types of medications developed in the last several decades showcase the brilliance of their inventors and the capabilities of science to bring humanity forward, price prohibits accessibility. Essentially, the price of prescriptions is so high that it’s almost as if some of them aren’t even on the market.  

Put it this way: 1 in 4 Americans have trouble paying for their medication. 14% of insured Americans have admitted to skipping medication due to the high costs of their medicine. Uninsured adults are over three times as likely as insured adults to skip medication because of the price tag. These figures are astounding – it’s 2019. Wouldn’t you expect access to prescription medication to be less complicated in this day and age?  

Comparing the United States with the international pharmaceutical industry

Unfortunately, the price of prescription medications is not regulated in the United States by a government agency or panel. This model is common around the world in countries like Australia, Canada, and Britain where policymakers believe in widespread access to prescription medications as a public utility measure. Some consumer products, in these countries, might cost more than they would in the United States because the government doesn’t regulate them the way they regulate drugs, but this model (prescription medication regulation) allows affordable healthcare for everyone regardless of their income. 

While prescriptions and healthcare are seen as a public utility around the world, the United States’ system is so flawed and fractured that it’s easy to conquer for the pharmaceutical companies who dictate the prices of their innovations.

Taking a look at the United States’ approval of prescription medications 

State-side, the government doesn’t get involved with the price regulation of drugs. There is no federal panel that regulates prices. Pharmaceutical companies producing drugs set the price of their medications. And any drug proven “safe” can enter the market, regardless of whether its benefits are an improvement from other medications in a similar class. 

One of the biggest categories of healthcare overspending in the United States is with prescription medications. But the overall concept of our spending on prescriptions is a little convoluted because American’s aren’t buying more drugs than other nations. They’re simply spending more. 

Why Americans Spend More on Prescriptions

The model of capitalism is a beautiful thing if it’s working in your favor. Pharmaceutical companies who are working on innovative research and developing medications further are perfect opportunities for investors to sink money in and make an absurd profit. Investing in pharmaceutical companies who are researching new medications is a great opportunity to make a profit thanks to the lack of regulation on drug prices. 

Another reason Americans are spending more on prescriptions than residents of other nations is that the costs of drugs already available on the market are rising. Medications already on the market and available to the public rise in price each year, according to a new study. Brand name prescriptions have risen 9% annually year over year, and injectable drugs like Insulin have risen by 15% in a year over year analysis. Individuals who suffer from inflammatory diseases have the highest likelihood of paying the most for their medications. 

To some extent, the commentary made by these pharmaceutical companies on their drug prices seems reasonable. The price of medication pays for the price of innovation. Without the high yield of funds from their drugs, pharmaceutical companies couldn’t continue their innovative research. Suggesting this is the single reason for the high cost of medication is deceptive though. There is no single reason. 

The problems facing the US healthcare system and pharmaceutical industry

The companies behind pharmaceutical innovation and research purport that lowering drug prices would reduce the impetus potential investors feel to invest in pharma research. Without their money, would pharmaceutical companies be able to conduct their innovative research in creating drugs that can help people suffering from any number of illnesses.

Naturally, this poses a problem for both the industry and the American people. 

The price of drugs in the US sort of subsidizes research all around the world, and there are medications available on the US market that aren’t available anywhere else in the world. The excuse, or the reason for this, is that other countries who have government agencies regulating medication prices prohibit the sale of drugs that don’t provide enough benefit to justify their cost. In the United States, the pharmaceutical companies who have stellar marketing are the ones whose drugs will make it onto the market, regardless of whether or not they are an improvement on drugs already available. 

What if we made changes within our government on prescription regulation? 

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence in another pasture. If the United States began to make adjustments to our healthcare system, there would be new pain points our nation would feel. 

The European Union manages to accommodate all income levels by demanding discounts on certain medications. Should the United States change the way we regulate drugs, it’s a possibility we would see similar discounts becoming available. It’s possible even insurance premiums would go down because companies would not have to bear the burden of steeply-priced prescriptions. 

The aforementioned changes are beneficial yet they’re not without the possibility of controversial consequences. If a government agency or regulatory panel was created with the intent to monitor drug prices, new medications would be subject to denial and it is possible that the number of drugs available on the market would diminish. 

This might sound unnerving – what if a medication that works well for you isn’t available anymore? The aforementioned issue isn’t as likely to occur because “innovative” medications that aren’t actually an improvement on other medicines on the market might be rejected. 

Investors could back off of investing in the American pharmaceutical industry – but with necessary changes made to make life-saving medicine available to more Americans, is the price of innovation worth it? 

Saving their lives is.