'Eye-popping rip-off': Americans pay nearly double rest of world combined for top meds
Pills with dollar signs (Shutterstock.com)

As public health advocates fumed over efforts by right-wing congressional Democrats to water down prescription drug pricing reforms proposed in their own party's flagship Build Back Better package, a report published Thursday by a leading progressive advocacy group revealed that Americans are paying nearly twice as much for the 20 bestselling medications as the rest of the world combined.

"Empowering Medicare to push back against inflated drug prices is the responsible and commonsense way to stand up to the industry's greed."
—Rick Claypool,
Public Citizen

The Public Citizen report, entitled United We Spend, compares U.S. revenue from the top 20 "blockbuster" drugs to global sales figures as reported by pharmaceutical companies in their annual U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, or foreign equivalents.

According to the analysis, U.S. sales of the top 20 medications totaled $101.1 billion in 2020, while sales of the same drugs totaled $57 billion in the rest of the world.

The report found that "drugs with significant sales revenue disparities include Gilead Sciences' HIV medication Biktarvy, which had U.S. sales revenue five times greater than the rest of the world; AbbVie's autoimmune disease drug Humira, which had U.S. sales revenue four times greater than the rest of the world; and Eli Lily's Type 2 diabetes drug Trulicity, Roche's multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, and Amgen and Pfizer's autoimmune disease drug Enbrel, all three of which had U.S. sales revenue more than triple the rest of the world."

Rick Claypool, a Public Citizen research director and co-author of the report, said Thursday that "this eye-popping rip-off Big Pharma is getting away with is an insult to the American people."

"Empowering Medicare to push back against inflated drug prices is the responsible and commonsense way to stand up to the industry's greed—which, certain members of Congress should be reminded, lawmakers in both parties have been promising to do for years," Claypool added.

A survey published Thursday by Invest in America and Data for Progress revealed that 73% of likely U.S. voters support allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.

However, Republican and some Democratic lawmakers have been fighting efforts to reduce prescription drug prices, and other reforms. For example, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)—who campaigned on a promise to "lower prescription drug prices"— has been one of the staunchest congressional opponents of allowing Medicare to leverage its tremendous purchasing power to negotiate lower medication prices.

As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, members of Congress have been the leading beneficiaries of Big Pharma largesse, as drugmakers and private health insurers have spent $171 million so far in 2021 on lobbying—the most of any industry.

In the House, three key Democrats blocking drug pricing reform—Reps. Scott Peters (Calif.), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), and Kurt Schrader (Ore.)—have taken a combined $1.6 million from Big Pharma over the course of their careers. In the Senate, two leading Democratic opponents of robust pricing reform—Sinema and Sen. Tom Carper (Del.)—have received more than $1.2 million in career pharmaceutical industry campaign contributions.

Earlier this week, a group of 160 patient advocates from across the United States sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) demanding that congressional Democrats include drug pricing reforms—especially allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription rates—in the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget reconciliation package.

"Millions of American families ration medicine to help pay the bills," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program. "Until now, the U.S. government has not even asserted power to help by negotiating more reasonable prices. Drug corporations clearly are taking advantage of that weakness, and abusing their monopoly privileges—and everyone in the U.S. is paying for it."