The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A most interesting article on prescription drugs

can be read here. It was written by Malcolm Gladwell for The New Yorker, and contains gems like this:

It is not accurate to say, then, that the United States has higher prescription-drug prices than other countries. It is accurate to say only that the United States has a different pricing system from that of other countries. Americans pay more for drugs when they first come out and less as the drugs get older, while the rest of the world pays less in the beginning and more later. Whose pricing system is cheaper? It depends. If you are taking Mevacor for your cholesterol, the 20-mg. pill is two-twenty-five in America and less than two dollars if you buy it in Canada. But generic Mevacor (lovastatin) is about a dollar a pill in Canada and as low as sixty-five cents a pill in the United States. Of course, not every drug comes in a generic version. But so many important drugs have gone off-patent recently that the rate of increase in drug spending in the United States has fallen sharply for the past four years. And so many other drugs are going to go off-patent in the next few years—including the top-selling drug in this country, the anti-cholesterol medication Lipitor—that many Americans who now pay more for their drugs than their counterparts in other Western countries could soon be paying less.

and

The economist J. D. Klienke points out that if all physicians followed the treatment guidelines laid down by the National Institutes of Health the number of Americans being treated for hypertension would rise from twenty million to forty-three million, the use of asthma medication would increase somewhere between twofold and tenfold, and the number of Americans on one of the so-called “statin” class of cholesterol-lowering medications would increase by at least a factor of ten. By these measures, it doesn’t seem that we are spending too much on prescription drugs. If the federal government’s own medical researchers are to be believed, we’re spending too little.

This is a lengthy article, but it is worth it to read the whole thing.

(Hat tip, Andrew Sullivan)

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