In the US there are drugs that have become more expensive 665%, in Spain some 400%: what happens to drug prices

For a handful of years there has been a question that runs through pharmaceutical laboratories like a chill. In fact, it is a question as easy to ask as it is difficult to answer with certainty: Does the pharmaceutical industry have a future?

A year and a half ago, Goldman Sachs made it clear that medical and technological advances were going to lead the industry to a dead end in which "curing diseases was not business." However, the sector already had an ace up its sleeve: raising prices.

An international price scale

Analuisa Gamboa

At least, that seems if we consider the data of the first report on the price of medicines in the US that has just been released. The average price of medicines sold in the country has increased by 25.8% between January 2017 and the first quarter of 2019, but there are some (such as the liquid version of Prozac) that have risen to 667%.

The figure is very striking, but North American after all. Unfortunately, the stratospheric costs of American health do not surprise anyone at this point in the game. But, with this on the table, we have asked ourselves if it was just a particular problem or was it affecting other countries as well.

The answer that is not, is not a phenomenon that only occurs in the United States. In Spain, the best known example is that of Fortasec, which in just six years tripled its price and whose rise was vetoed by the Ministry of Health in March 2019. But if we look at the detail, since 2012 the growth in prices has been our daily bread.

A well 'notified' climb

Anastasia Dulgier

Why since 2012? For that year, in the midst of a crisis, Health decided to stop financing a series of well-known drugs (Flutox, Voltarén, Almax, Fortasec, etc.) that were classified as "notified price". In other words, they did not have a regulated price, but they were not over-the-counter either. Health had to authorize the price changes.

In the following seven years, Health authorized all the increases that were raised and, as expected, prices skyrocketed. Five multiplied their price by 400%; in another 17, by 200%; There are already 46 that are above 100% and 54 that are above 50%. Only one of those drugs costs less today than in 2012.

What is happening with the price of medicines?

Ibrahim Boran

The industry often talks about growth in production costs, insufficient pre-existing margins (artificially maintained by interference from health systems) or market mismatches and competition problems to explain these price increases. But, as many critics point out, we still don't have a clear answer. The truth is that, in a world as little transparent as that of pharmaceuticals, it is complex to know if these increases are as unjustified as it seems.

In recent years, whether we like it or not, healthcare medicine has become more complex, and the issues of how to balance the burdens of all actors in a highly regulated market remain on the table. Although a general rise is undoubtedly suspect, it is difficult to assign 'blame' in such a heavily regulated market. What is clear is that there is a need to discuss health and sooner rather than later.

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