Arjun Gupta, MBBS, and co-authors published a research letter in the September 12, 2022, issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. In their article titled “Price Comparison of Human and Veterinary Formulations of Common Medications,” Dr. Gupta and co-authors compared the price of 120 medications that are commonly used in humans and pets. The authors found that the price of human medications was generally higher than the price of pet medications with the same ingredients at common human-equivalent doses. Retail prices for humans were higher than pet prices for more than 90% of medications. On average, the retail price of human medications was approximately 550% higher than pet medications. Even the prices of human medications discounted with coupons at pharmacies such as Costco were higher. Discounted prices for humans were higher than pet prices for more than 60% of medications, and discounted prices were on average 150% higher for human medications than pet medications.

One medication analyzed by Dr. Gupta and colleagues was the antibiotic levofloxacin. In their analysis, a 10-day course of levofloxacin (500 mg/day) costs approximately $2 for pets and between $10 (discounted) and $110 (retail) for humans.

The reasons for these dramatic price differences remain unclear. One likely possibility is that drug manufacturers are engaging in price discrimination — charging consumers different prices in different markets for the same product. Additionally, price differences could reflect differences in medication effectiveness, willingness to pay, and manufacturing, storage, and regulatory standards.

“With many humans and pets uninsured or underinsured, it is important that cash prices for medications are affordable and that pricing is not exploitative,” noted Dr. Gupta.

The editors of JAMA Internal Medicine considered this research important enough to publish two accompanying editorials and a podcast with Dr. Gupta’s co-author Dr. Stacie Dusetzina, who is a drug policy expert and Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) member.