Critical Condition: Cheaper in Canada

ByABC News
October 22, 2003, 2:47 PM

Oct. 22 -- Canada's national health plan pays for doctor visits and hospital stays. But outside the hospital unless a patient is 65 or older, or on welfare the government plan does not cover prescription drugs.

Canadians, like Americans, must get insurance from an employer or independently, or else pay the full cost of medications themselves.

Karen Ireland, 54, who lives in Oakville, Ontario, has Parkinson's disease. She's on five different medications. "I do find it very expensive," she told ABCNEWS.

Expensive, yes, but a steal compared to what she would pay in the United States. When her prescription drug costs are converted into U.S. dollars, the price difference is significant:

Mirapex, for Parkinson's disease: $157 in Canada vs. $263 in the United States. Celexa, for depression: $149 in Canada vs. $253 in the United States.

Diovan, for high blood pressure: $149 in Canada vs. $253 in the United States.

Oxazepam, for insomnia: $13 in Canada vs. $70 in the United States.

Seroquel, for insomnia: $33 in Canada vs. $124 in the United States.

"Oh my gosh," said Ireland after learning of the price differences. "I don't know how they [Americans] do it. That is, that is a shock!"

Canada Caps Drug Costs

Canadians are spared higher drug prices, in large part because of price controls. The Canadian government has established a "Patented Medicine Prices Review Board" to ensure drug prices are not excessive.

"They look at the price of the drug," said Dr. Allan Detsky, a pharmacoeconomist at the University of Toronto, "and they say, 'You know what, we have no idea what the long-run costs of development are, but they can't possibly be that high. Forget it.' "

The review board has established a very specific formula for drug companies wishing to sell in Canada:

Existing drugs cannot increase in price by more than the rate of inflation.

New drugs cannot cost more than similar drugs for the same illness.