American consumers pay three times as much for cholesterol-lowering statins than British citizens.
That’s the conclusion of a new Boston University study that compared the cost paid for the drugs in people under age 65 in the United States who have private insurance and the United Kingdom, where the government picks up drug costs.
"The cost of prescription drugs incur a tremendous burden to the U.S. economy, whether paid by private insurance companies through higher insurance premiums or paid by the government that provides this service for the military, other government employees, the elderly and others," said Dr. Hershel Jick, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, in an editorial accompanying the study, published in the journal Pharmacotherapy.
For the study, researchers compared the drug costs for a representative sample of about 1.2 million Brits and Americans. They noted the total estimated cost for statins in the U.S. paid by private health insurance companies was $87 million in 2005. But a year later 2006, simvastin (Zocor) became available in a generic form; the cost per pill fell from $3.91 in 2005 to $0.20 in 2009, and the total insurance cost for all statins fell from an estimated $87 million in 2005 to $47 million in 2009 in the U.S.
In the U.K., where costs are paid by the government and generic statins were widely available, the total statin cost was estimated to be $17 million in 2005 and fell to $14 million in 2009, despite a large increase in the number of users over that time.
Cost estimates for drugs known as “Proton Pump Inhibitors” followed a similar pattern to those for statins. The total cost for continuous users was estimated to be $14 million in the U.S. compared to $4 million in the U.K. in 2005.
In the U.S., over the past decade, roughly 180 million people under age 65 years have been covered by private health insurance companies. The researchers estimate the total cost of branded statins paid by insurance companies was more than $10 billion in 2005 and fell to $5 billion in 2009, largely due to the availability of generic forms of these drugs.