For a long time, people have debated the price of drugs in the United States. This is stupid. Today, about 90% of all prescriptions are for generic drugs. Probably the percentage should be higher than that (it is 97% in China). Generic prescription drugs should be like Tylenol – almost free. In fact, they’re almost free already.
Quick: Name the most important new drugs of the past 20 years. Difficult question, right? There haven’t been any new drugs so important that ordinary people know their names. I used to say, “except for Viagra”, which always made people laugh. But in fact, Viagra is now off-patent and available in generic form – at $ 0.15 a pill, from Kroger.
Generics quickly made up almost all prescriptions. In 2005, 60% of prescriptions were for generics. In 2019, 90% were. Even for the remaining 10% of patented drugs, generics could be substituted. A March 2021 study found that of 169 million brand name prescriptions paid for by Medicare, 30% of the prescriptions affected were generics available. In addition to this, brand name drugs were often used to fill “open prescriptions” when generics were available.
Biotechists have told us about the amazing new drugs on the horizon. The reality is that patented drugs have lost 75% of their market share in just 15 years, which is the sort of figure from Blockbuster Video. Instead, what has happened is that the same old drugs are now available at incredible new prices.
A 2017 study estimated the costs of producing the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines, including hundreds of generic drugs. Most of them cost less than $ 0.10 per pill.
If you want to see the lowest generic drug prices, go to GoodRx.com. Here are the ten most commonly prescribed drugs in 2020 and their lowest retail prices, at the time of writing:
1: Atorvastatin (Lipitor): $ 17.56 for 180 pills ($ 0.0978 / pill) at Price Chopper.
2: Lisinopril (Zestril, Prvinil): $ 14.39 for 180 tablets ($ 0.0799 / tablet) at Kroger Pharmacy.
3: Albuterol (Ventolin, Proair, Proventil): Five inhalers for $ 101 ($ 20.20 / inhaler) at Walgreens.
4: Levothyroxine (Euthyrox, Synthroid, Levo-T, Unithroid, Levoxyl): $ 18.49 for 180 pills ($ 0.1027 per pill) at Kroger Pharmacy.
5: Amlodipine (Norvasc): $ 11.44 for 90 tablets ($ 0.127 / tablet) at Stop n Shop.
6: Gabapentin (Neurontin): $ 15.60 for 270 tablets ($ 0.0578 / tablet) at Stop n Shop.
7: Omeprazole (Prilosec): $ 18.63 for 180 tablets ($ 0.1035 / tablet) from Wegmans.
8: Metformin (Glucophage): $ 15.81 for 360 tablets ($ 0.043 9 / tablet) at Kroger Pharmacy.
9: Losartan (Cozaar): $ 19.26 for 180 pills ($ 0.1078 / pill) at Kroger Pharmacy.
10: Hydrocodone / Acetaminophen (Vicodin, Lorcet, Norco, Xodol, Hycet): $ 27.17 for 180 tablets ($ 0.150 / tablet) at Price Chopper.
For some reason, people are still debating Medicare prescription drug benefits. Medicare, or any other publicly funded health service, should only prescribe generic drugs. These should be paid for by the patients, as I’m sure they can afford the cost of $ 20. Unfortunately Medicare can probably find a way to spend $ 5,000 on generic drugs with a market value of $ 12.