Advair, Symbicort charge Americans 5x what they charge Europeans

International pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca are charging Americans approximately five times what they charge the French for the popular asthma medicines Advair (Seretide in France) and Symbicort.

Advair 500 goes for $73 (55 euros) in France, while in America GlaxoSmithKline charges a whopping $391 for the drug (the most recent price at Costco). That’s 5.36x what they charge the French for the same exact drug.

And Symbicort goes for $60 (45 euros) in France, while in America AstraZeneca charges $272 for the drug, or 4.5x what it charges the French.

Advair sells as "Seretide" in France, where the drug is five times cheaper than it is in America.

Advair sells as “Seretide” in France, where the drug is five times cheaper than it is in America. And not because the French subsidize the price, but rather because they negotiate the price and the US refuses.

Merck is even worse. The pharmaceutical giant charges Americans $197 for Asmanex 200.

And how much does Merck charge the French? $25 (19 euros). Yes, Merck charges Americans 7.9x what it charges the French for the exact same drug.

Oh, and that’s the price the French pay BEFORE their insurance picks up most or the tab.

I confirmed the price discrepancies while shopping at a local pharmacy in Paris this week.

As the chart below shows, the drug companies’ actions are even more duplicitous than simplying charging customers more based on their American citizenship.

Over the past five years, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has raised the price of Advair by 43% in the US market. But in France, GSK dropped Advair’s price by 13% over the same period.

AstraZeneca similarly raised its prices for Symbicort in America by 40% from 2009 to 2014, while dropping its prices by 17% in France over the same period.


We’ve written extensively about the incredible mark-up pharmaceutical companies charge Americans.  It’s the reason a growing number of US insurance companies are refusing to pay for Advair at all.

Of course, as I noted in a story earlier this year, the NYT got it wrong when it suggested that Advair competitor Symbicort was somehow charging a fair price in comparison. AstraZeneca’s price is only “fair” if you consider gouging Americans with a 4.5x markup better than gouging us with a 5.36x markup.

As economics professor Steve Kyle explains, the reason the prices are different in the US and France is because the French government negotiates drug prices while the American government does not.

In fact, it’s illegal for the US government to negotiate the price the Medicare program pays for prescription drugs. Why? Because of US senators like Delaware’s Tom Carper, who are a wholly-owned subsidiary of the drug companies — in Carper’s case, the company that owns him is AstraZeneca. (The Republicans are just as bad).

So the next time you consider giving Carper a donation, or voting for him, keep in mind that he’s the reason you’re paying nearly 5x what you should be for that asthma drug that’s saving your kid’s life — assuming you can afford it at all.

In fact, an American mom just posted the following on Facebook:

My son needs Symbicort for his asthma but even with insurance we cannot afford the $90 copay so we no longer buy it. There is no generic. We just keep our fingers crossed he does not have an asthma attack. This article really upsets me.

As Dr. Thoma wrote yesterday, high copays is one of the ways that insurance companies still manage to undercut health care for people they’re required to cover under Obamacare.

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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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