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Cancer Drug Cost Variation Sparks Debate In Europe, U.S.

Did you know that depending on what country you live in, you may pay considerably more money for the exact same cancer treatment drugs?

A new analysis of the prices of cancer drugs shows dramatic variations in pricing that appear to only depend on what country the patient is purchasing from. The U.S. was found to pay more than any other country in the world, at a rate almost three times that of the U.K, which pays the lowest amount of any country in the study. Dramatic variations between certain European companies was noted as well. Cancer patients in Germany pay approximately 223 percent more to treat leukemia and melanoma than patients in Greece.

Across Europe, the list prices of cancer drugs reportedly differ by as much as 92 percent depending on the country, with a 58 percent variation of the actual price paid, factoring in any discounts. And on the subject of discounts, certain countries, including France and the Netherlands, were found to not receive them, as patients were forced to pay the list price.

Health experts are calling for “more transparency” in the pricing of drugs by pharmaceutical companies, as the act of overpricing these drugs may make them prohibitively expensive to many who need them.

Dr. Sabine Vogler of the World Health Organization said that some of the higher income countries, such as the U.K., have made deals with the drug manufacturers to attain lower prices. “These agreements, including the agreed prices, are confidential”, he said.

Although these agreements ensure patient access to new drugs, other countries risk overpaying when setting drug prices through the common practice of external price referencing, or international price comparison, because they can only use the official undiscounted prices as a benchmark.

So why do the drug prices need to be so high?

While it may seem plausible to assume greed is the motivating factor behind the pricing, drug manufacturers argue that the profits are generally used in the development of newer and better treatment options. According to Reuters, a number of new drugs have been introduced to the market because of this method of funding, and many are useful in the treatment of cancer.

Still, it doesn’t satisfactorily explain why a person’s geographical location would determine the amount they pay.

“We hope that our findings will provide concrete evidence for policymakers to take action to address high prices and ensure more transparency in cancer drug pricing so that costs and access to new drugs does no depend on where a patient lives”, said Dr. Vogler.

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