Source: Wikipedia, Slate.com
Why is the same drug much cheaper in Canada than in the United States? The simple answer is price controls. A Canadian law authorizes a review board to order a price reduction whenever the price of a drug exceeds the median of the prices in six European countries plus the United States. Since all the European countries intervene in various ways to hold down drug costs, Canada in effect piggy-backs on other countries’ price controls.
The U.S. government has taken the position (through the Office of the United States Trade Representative) that U.S. drug prices are rising because U.S. consumers are effectively subsidizing costs which drug companies cannot recover from consumers in other countries (because many other countries use their bulk-purchasing power to aggressively negotiate drug prices). The U.S. position (consistent with the primary lobbying position of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) is that the governments of such countries are free riding on the backs of U.S. consumers. Such governments should either deregulate their markets, or raise their domestic taxes in order to fairly compensate U.S. consumers by directly remitting the difference (between what the companies would earn in an open market versus what they are earning now) to drug companies or to the U.S. government. In turn, pharmaceutical companies would be able to continue to produce innovative pharmaceuticals while lowering prices for U.S. consumers. Currently, the U.S., as a purchaser of pharmaceuticals, negotiates some drug prices but is forbidden by law from negotiating drug prices for the Medicare program due to the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act passed in 2003. Democrats have charged that the purpose of this provision is merely to allow the pharmaceutical industry to profiteer off of the Medicare program, which is already in imminent danger of becoming financially insolvent.