Policy options for pharmaceutical pricing and purchasing: issues for low- and middle-income countries

Health Policy Plan. 2015 Mar;30(2):267-80. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czt105. Epub 2014 Jan 13.


Pharmaceutical expenditure is rising globally. Most high-income countries have exercised pricing or purchasing strategies to address this pressure. Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), however, usually have less regulated pharmaceutical markets and often lack feasible pricing or purchasing strategies, notwithstanding their wish to effectively manage medicine budgets. In high-income countries, most medicines payments are made by the state or health insurance institutions. In LMICs, most pharmaceutical expenditure is out-of-pocket which creates a different dynamic for policy enforcement. The paucity of rigorous studies on the effectiveness of pharmaceutical pricing and purchasing strategies makes it especially difficult for policy makers in LMICs to decide on a course of action. This article reviews published articles on pharmaceutical pricing and purchasing policies. Many policy options for medicine pricing and purchasing have been found to work but they also have attendant risks. No one option is decisively preferred; rather a mix of options may be required based on country-specific context. Empirical studies in LMICs are lacking. However, risks from any one policy option can reasonably be argued to be greater in LMICs which often lack strong legal systems, purchasing and state institutions to underpin the healthcare system. Key factors are identified to assist LMICs improve their medicine pricing and purchasing systems.

Keywords: Pharmaceutical pricing; developing countries; pharmaceutical expenditure; pharmaceutical purchasing; value-based pricing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Developing Countries*
  • Drug Costs*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans