U.S. vs. Canadian Drug Prices in 2021

Written by Gabriel Levitt, MA | Posted January 28, 2021 | Updated April 06, 2021

Our favorite drug companies kicked off 2021 the only way they know how:  extensive drug price increases in America! In an analysis of about 500 drugs, the median price increase was 4.9%. This is a time-honored tradition: Last year, the median was 5%. Year after year after year after year, we learn just after New Year’s Day that drug prices are up again -- and it’s usually multiple times the rate of inflation. In this case, the drug price increases are eight times higher than the inflation rate for 2020. 

This data was brought to you by 46brooklyn, an incredible non-profit initiative dedicated to transparency and hard-hitting analyses of prescription drug prices. 

Drug prices in Canada and most other countries do not rise at the insane rates we see here in the United States. Why?  Because other countries have laws that prevent such price gouging. For example, drugs are cheaper in Canada due to its Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, which ensures that new brand name drugs do not come with exorbitant price tags and face endless price increases beyond inflation.  

When I helped start PharmacyChecker.com back in 2002, savings from Canada on popular and then patented drugs -- like Lipitor (atorvastatin), Viagra (sildenafil), and Zoloft (sertraline) --  were around 50%. Just about every year, the savings rate grows between the countries when it comes to brand name prescription drugs. 

We looked at 10 drugs mentioned in 46brooklyn’s data, which saw a median increase of 4.85%. The potential savings on those drugs obtained from a Canadian pharmacy is 61%. We took it a step further, and also included savings if an American decided to order from a country other than Canada: savings shot up to 71%.  

U.S. Drug Prices vs. Canada vs. International 2021

Drug Name Strength Quantity WAC Price Increase % Change Average U.S. Retail Price Lowest Canadian Price Savings Lowest International Price (Outside of Canada) Savings
Biktarvy 50/200/25mg 90 tablets 4.80% $11,648.70 $4,499.97 61.37% $3,699.99 68.24%
Genvoya 150/150/200/10mg 90 tablets 4.80% $11,902.54 $4,407.00 62.97% $3,629.70 69.50%
Latuda 40mg 90 tablets 4.90% $4,628.70 $519.99 88.77% $284.95 93.84%
Eliquis 5mg 180 tablets 6% $1,668.60 $369.99 77.83% $163.80 90.18%
Triumeq 600/50/300mg 90 tablets 4.90% $11,014.39 $4,939.95 55.15% $3,718.64 66.24%
Vraylar 6mg 90 tablets 3.50% $4,359.60 N/A N/A $1,832.40 57.97%
Descovy 200/25mg 90 tablets 4.80% $6,566.40 $2,999.99 54.31% $2,898.95 55.85%
Jardiance 10mg 90 tablets 5% $1,845.00 $289.99 84.28% $130.99 92.90%
Ibrance 100mg 42 capsules 5% $27,313.00 $12,999.84 52.40% $11,859.53 56.58%
Odefsey 200/25/25 90 tablets 4.80% $10,776.94 N/A N/A $4,437.95 58.82%

WAC median price increase data from 46brooklyn. Pricing from PharmacyChecker.com.

Many of the drugs are still too expensive for most Americans to pay for out of pocket. The cancer drug Ibrance, for example, is over $27,000 for a 90-day supply in the U.S. vs. $13,000 in Canada. The lowest international pharmacy price listed on PharmacyChecker.com is $11,860. For uninsured Americans who are prescribed this drug, their first step is to try and find a Patient Assistance Program. 

But for other drugs, such as Eliquis (apixaban), Latuda (lurasidone), and Jardiance (empagliflozin), Canadian pharmacies and pharmacies in other countries could offer a practical lifeline for Americans without health insurance or where insurance doesn’t cover their prescribed drug. If you choose to avail yourself of international drug prices, make sure you only shop at those accredited through the PharmacyChecker Verification Program. This is the surefire way to avoid dangerous websites that pose as online pharmacies. We vet and monitor legitimate pharmacy operations located in Canada and other countries to ensure patient safety when buying medication online.

There is no real end in sight to drug price hikes in the U.S. until legislation and regulatory reforms are successfully brought to bear. Trump’s rhetoric was full of bashing Big Pharma, which certainly moved his party in the direction of supporting lowering drug prices -- but this didn’t exactly yield tangible results. With the wind at his sails, President Biden has the momentum and potential for bipartisanship to pass new laws and regulatory reforms to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, expand drug importation at the wholesale level beyond Canada, set up frameworks to expressly permit personal importation, and end patent games so that less expensive generics can come to market faster. 

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