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U.S. Drug Prices, But Not Out-of-Pocket Costs, Are the World’s Highest

With drug prices rising sitting at 10% of skyrocketing health care costs and pharmaceutical companies socking away big profits, you might assume that the U.S. has the highest prescription drug spending in the world. And you’d be right.

Per capita prescription expenses in 2016 were $1,016 in this country, while the comparable country average was $593. Even Switzerland, no stranger to higher health care costs, stood second at $794. Sweden was $356.

So it might seem surprising that the U.S. wasn’t so far off from other countries in out-of-pocket expenses, according to Axios: number three at $139 versus the comparable country average of $118. Switzerland was on top at $246 and Canada, number two with $154.

There’s a clear explanation. U.S. health insurance covers a bigger portion of the bill—with people making up the difference in higher monthly premiums and taxes that help cover Medicare and Medicaid costs. Prescription drug costs make up the single largest percentage of health insurance premiums at 23.3%, as 22.2% go to doctors services, 20.2% for office and clinic visits, and 16.1% for hospital stays, according to a study from trade association America’s Health Insurance Plans.

And if someone’s insurance doesn’t include a pharmaceutical plan, or if a person doesn’t have coverage at all, the reality of those high total prices can hit hard.