Cost of brand-name prescription drugs skyrockets

Prescription drug prices for seniors jumped more than 8 percent last year — the steepest increase in the last six years, according to an analysis by AARP released Wednesday.

The cost of every one of the 25 most popular branded drugs among Medicare patients rose higher than inflation in 2009, according to AARP, the 50+ lobby. Of the 217 best-selling branded prescriptions among seniors, the group found, 211 saw retail price hikes exceeding general inflation.

On average, the retail price of those 217 drugs rose 8.3 percent last year — higher than the jump in any of the previous five years, which ranged from 6.0 percent to 7.9 percent, AARP said.  

“These are increases that hit the wallets of every American, whether through their own health care bills or the costs of programs like Medicare and Medicaid,” John Rother, AARP's executive vice president, said Wednesday in a statement.

AARP has long followed the cost trends in the prescription drug market, but this year's analysis marks the first time the group has focused on retail prices for consumers, rather than the cost to manufacturers to produce the drugs. 

The drug lobby has criticized past analyses, saying the manufacturers' price doesn't take into account the rebates the companies give to seniors at the drug counter. It won't be able to make the same argument this year, Rother said.

“For the first time, we know that brand name drug retail prices are growing just as quickly as manufacturer prices,” he said.

Among the notable price hikes, the cost of Flomax (0.4 mg capsules), the prostate drug, jumped 24.8 percent in 2009; Provigil (200 mg), which treats sleeping disorders, jumped 22.7 percent; and Prevacid (30 mg), a popular antacid, leapt 23.1 percent. 

"Unless something is done to bring down their skyrocketing price increases, life-saving medicines will be out of reach for too many.  The health care law made some progress by closing the Medicare doughnut hole, but Congress and the industry must bring more competition and transparency to the marketplace."

The pharmaceutical industry perennial ranks among the most profitable in the country. In 2008, instance, Forbes, drug companies reported profits of 19.3 percent relative to revenues — third highest among all industries, Forbes found