The retail prices for the 217 most widely used brand-name drugs rose an average of 8.3 percent last year, despite a drop in inflation, according to a new survey by AARP. And for the most popular meds, prices rose 41.5 percent, outpacing a 13.3 percent rise in the Consumer Price Index. The results were first reported inThe New York Times and here is the complete survey.
However, the findings may not match reality for many Americans who take lower-cost generics, according to John Vernon, an assistant professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina who consults for drugmakers. “It can easily be shown that branded prices are higher here than they are in other countries, but we have the lowest and the most competitively priced generic drugs in the world, and the generic share is going up rapidly,” he tells the paper. “Just focusing on brands I think is unfair.” A different survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found prices rose 3.4 percent last year.
John Rother, AARP's executive vp for policy and strategy, agrees that generic prices held stable or declined, but the new analysis, nontheless, showed that many older Americans may have difficulty paying for needed brand-name meds. The AARP, by the way, conducts a pricing survey each year, but this was the first time the group relied on retail, not wholesale pricing. In the past, AARP was criticized for its methodology, because manufacturer rebates were not included.
The AARP, as the Times writes, found overall increases of 8.3 percent in 2009, 7.9 percent in 2008, 7 percent in 2007, 6.1 percent in 2006, when Medicare drug benefits started, and 6 percent in 2005. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported increases for the same years of 3.4, 2.5, 1.4, 4.3 and 3.5 percent, although these included prices for generics.
The biggest price hike was claimed by Boehringer Ingelheim's Flomax incontinence pill with a 24.8 percent rise to $4.09, according to AARP. The generic equivalent sells for $3.63 on drugstore.com. Meanwhile, prices rose 6 percent, to $5.40 a day, on AstraZeneca's Nexium; 8.8 percent, to $5.06 a day, for the Plavix bloodthinner sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb; 7 percent, to $5.50 a day, on Prevacid from Takeda; 6.8 percent, to $4.21 a day, on Protonix from Wyeth; and 4.1 percent, to $4.03, on Lipitor 20-milligram tablets from Pfizer.
Other interesting details: the retail prices for widely used brand-name meds rose by more than the inflation rate for all drugmakers last year, with Boehringer Ingelheim leading the pack at 18.4 percent; and all therapeutic categories had retail price increases that exceeded inflation, and the average annual retail cost for the most widely used brand-name meds was almost $1,400 last year.
Also, the five-year cumulative percent change in retail price was 92 percent for the Nexium, the brand-name med with the largest percent price hike last year, and that retail price for a one-year supply of Nexium 40 mg capsules was $1,971 by the end of 2009, an increase of $414 from the end of 2004.