How Australia’s medicine prices rate against the rest of the world

Chronic disease sufferers commonly complain about the cost of medicine. The same goes for anyone who has an unexpected illness or needs to maintain health through prescription medicines, such as beta-blockers, antidepressants and heart and blood pressure meds.

And while the cost of these medicines may be burning a hole in their pockets, they may be surprised to learn that Australia has some of the cheapest prescription drugs in the world.

The Medbelle 2019 Medicine Price Index has Australia ranked as the 11th most affordable place in the world to buy common prescription drugs.

The drug price index compared the cost of 13 common medications from 50 countries and found, on average, that Australian prices were 25 per cent below the median global cost.

“I wasn’t surprised to see us at the top of the list for affordability,” research fellow at the University of South Australia Anna Kemp-Casey told The New Daily.

“Our Commonwealth does a really good job of negotiating prices for things that go on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.”

In a country where many prescription drugs are subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), Australians do have access to affordable medication.

Thailand, Kenya and Malaysia were the countries with the cheapest drugs, while the US was at the other end of the list with the most expensive pharmaceuticals.

“Mostly, that’s to do with lack of regulation around pricing,” said Dr Kemp-Casey.

“It’s a free market in terms of manufacturers being able to charge what they like, which is not the case in Australia.”

Australia scored high on having low generic drug prices for many common ailments, such as high cholesterol, depression, epilepsy and fibromyalgia. However, some generic drugs, such as some used to treat anxiety and diabetes were still expensive.

“Our ability to negotiate a low price with the manufacturers is much less than another country who is using [a drug] first line … because their market is much bigger,” said Dr Kemp-Casey.

“It makes sense to pay more for something we don’t want to use as much of.

“In terms of things we’d expect people to be using a lot of in Australia … they are the very low-priced ones, and that makes sense.”

Overall, the index’s analysis of 13 types of medicines revealed that generic drug prices in Australia were more than 36 per cent lower than the global median, and branded drug prices were seven per cent cheaper.

Dr Kemp-Casey said that the PBS worked well for people in good health, but for those with chronic illness or multiple diseases, the cost of medicines was still prohibitive.

“It’s not unusual for me to hear about someone who has 15 or 20 different medicines they take in a month,” she said.

“You multiply each one of those by $6.50, and you can start to see how things get very expensive for people, especially for those on low income.”

Do you feel you pay too much for medicine? Or is the PBS generous?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?
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