Drug cost comparison stays hazy

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Drug cost comparison stays hazy

The Ministry of Health and Welfare released a report Wednesday which compared the Korean price of 80 popular generic drugs to that of 15 other leading economies, including the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom, but the government-ordered report leaves readers wondering exactly how Korea’s costs rank in comparison to other countries.

The majority of the results point to Korean generic drugs being comparatively more expensive than other developed nations.

On the sole, flat-price comparison by U.S. dollar, Korea’s prices ranked among the bottom five countries. But on a purchasing power parity basis, Korea ranked third most expensive. PPP is the currency conversion rate that allows for international comparisons of GDP by reflecting the differences in price levels between countries.

On another comparison, which calculated the PPP comparison in tandem with how frequently generic drugs are used by consumers, Korea ranked No. 1 in price.

However, the 80 generic drugs exclude the majority of drugs which have become available in the last three to four years. Only five out of the 80 generic drugs which were compared in this report came on the market after 2006.

In late 2006, the local government started enforcing a policy that lowered the price of generic drugs.

Before this policy came into force, the average price of generic drugs was 80 to 90 percent of the brand-name versions. After the policy was enacted, this dropped to 68 percent, and by this March it had dropped to 54 percent.

A total of 4,807 generic drugs came on the market after the policy took effect, 38.5 percent of all generic drugs in Korea.

“Because many of the countries surveyed for the report didn’t have the new generic drugs out in their markets yet, we couldn’t compare the prices,” an official at the Health Ministry said.

However, according to Moon Gyeong-tae, vice chairman of the Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, “This kind of limited report can give the false impression to the public that Korean generic drugs are expensive.”

By Shin Sung-sik [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
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