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Why Does Viagra Cost So Much?

Viagra has given millions of men worldwide relief from erectile dysfunction.

Viagra has given millions of men worldwide relief from erectile dysfunction.

Viagra can enhance quality of life, and in some cases may be life altering for men and their partners.

The introduction of Viagra in 1998 changed the way erectile dysfunction (ED) is thought of and talked about. Before Viagra, ED was often thought to be a psychological problem, and basically nobody talked about it. Men suffered silently, not even letting their doctors know there was a problem, so strong was the stigma of ED.

Now we know better. Erectile dysfunction, in fact, is usually a vascular problem, having to do with the mechanics of blood flow. While ED can definitely have psychological effects, the condition itself is no longer considered primarily a psychological problem. Viagra and other drugs in the PDE-5 inhibitor class directly influence blood flow to the genitals, and for millions of men worldwide, these drugs have effectively addressed ED.

How Much Per Pill Is Viagra?

Viagra is not cheap. One common way people save money when buying Viagra is to purchase 100 mg tablets and cut them in half. You can expect to pay roughly anywhere from $34 to $44 per pill, or about $17 to $22 per dose if 50 mg is the correct dose for your needs. The typical dosage for Viagra is 50 mg, and the 50 mg tablets cost the same as the 100 mg tablets, so there’s no real incentive for buying it at the 50 mg dose in most cases.

In the United States, the cost of Viagra has increased steadily, and at a rate that far outpaces inflation since its introduction. This price trend was reflected in markets in Europe and Canada until 2013, when Pfizer lost patent protection in several European countries and in Canada. In Europe in particular, where a flood of generics has entered the market, Viagra is now sold as a “premium” product for consumers who want the reassurance of the brand name. Generics in Europe have brought the cost of ED drugs containing sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) down by around 90%. Genuine Viagra purchased in Canada now costs about one-third the price in the United States.

Healthcare Coverage and Viagra

Many health insurance plans do not include Viagra in their prescription drug coverage. While Viagra is a prescription medication and is obtained through the healthcare system, it is not considered a drug that fulfills a medical need. However, Viagra can be purchased using a tax-advantaged flexible spending account or health savings account, so if you have one of these, you have the ability to buy Viagra with pre-tax dollars.

In short, to be covered by prescription drug plans, medications have to convince insurers that its products meet medical needs rather than wants, and in an era where healthcare spending is always in the spotlight, this can be very difficult for ED drug manufacturers to do.

Medicare, Medicaid, and Viagra

Medicare Part D plans and Medicaid do not cover Viagra either. Medicaid used to spend around $15 million per year on the drugs, but all that came to a halt in 2005. That year, Democrats and Republicans set aside partisan differences and passed a law prohibiting Medicare and Medicaid from covering Viagra and its competitors. Pharmaceutical companies lobbied against the change, but legislators were having none of it, after reports earlier that year found that convicted sex offenders had been receiving Viagra and other ED medications through Medicaid.

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A few lawmakers argued that “lifestyle” drugs like Viagra are designed to improve quality of life, similarly to how, for example arthritis drugs allowed older people to enjoy playing the piano or spending the day on a golf course. But ultimately, the law, an amendment to a large spending bill, was passed with little debate.

Medicare Part D plans don’t cover Viagra.

Medicare Part D plans don’t cover Viagra.

Why Drug Companies Raise Prices

Prescription drug prices actually dropped some during the worst of the recession of 2008-2010, but by 2012 they had started rising again, even though other healthcare costs remained flat. In 2012, the overall rate of inflation was 1.7%, but prescription drug prices climbed by 3.6%.

The main reason for the rapid increase in prices for prescription drugs is that many brand name drugs are covered by insurance plans, and they are often advertised heavily. Despite huge savings from a growing number of generic drugs, which often cost one-quarter what name brand drugs cost, the cost of name brand drugs rose significantly enough to more than offset low generic drug prices.

Top-selling name brand drugs are often the very ones that show the steepest increases in price. For example, in 2012, Nexium increased in price by 7.8%, Abilify went up by $10.4%, and Crestor’s price went up 9.7%. These were the three top-selling drugs of 2012. An AstraZenica spokesperson summed it up by saying, “Pricing decisions are based on many factors that reflect our obligations to patients and shareholders.”

Conclusion

In summary, Viagra is so expensive in the US primarily because the price constraints offered by generic competition haven’t happened here yet. The first generic competitor for Viagra is scheduled to go on sale at the end of 2017, under an agreement between Pfizer and Teva Pharmaceuticals, and even that may not lower prices very much.

However, Cialis patent protection in the US ends in 2017, and Levitra’s US patent runs out in 2018, so it’s possible that generics for those drugs could provide price relief, and possibly put downward pressure on Viagra prices. Pfizer’s US patents don’t expire completely until the year 2020. Right now, consumers’ best bet with Viagra is to purchase 100 mg tablets, since they cost the same as 50 mg tablets, and to shop around, because prices do vary.

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About Don Amerman

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Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+