Why the U.S. Pays More Than Other Countries for Drugs

By:  Jeanne Whalen

Norway, an oil producer with one of the world’s richest economies, is an expensive place to live. A Big Mac costs $5.65. A gallon of gasoline costs $6.

But one thing is far cheaper than in the U.S.: prescription drugs.

A vial of the cancer drug Rituxan cost Norway’s taxpayer-funded health system $1,527 in the third quarter of 2015, while the U.S. Medicare program paid $3,678. An injection of the asthma drug Xolair cost Norway $463, which was 46% less than Medicare paid for it.

Drug prices in the U.S. are shrouded in mystery, obscured by confidential rebates, multiple middlemen and the strict guarding of trade secrets. But for certain drugs—those paid for by Medicare Part B—prices are public. By stacking these against pricing in three foreign health systems, as discovered in nonpublic and public data, The Wall Street Journal was able to pinpoint international drug-cost differences and what lies behind them.

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