Report shows skyrocketing costs for 20 brand-name drugs

Report shows skyrocketing costs for 20 brand-name drugs
© Greg Nash

Prices for each of the 20 most-prescribed brand-name drugs for seniors have increased dramatically every year for the past five years, according to a new report released by Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillRed-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Analysis: Dark money groups have funded 44 percent of 2018 congressional ads Beto O'Rourke is dominating Ted Cruz in enthusiasm and fundraising — but he's still headed for defeat MORE (D-Mo.).

The cost of the drugs, which include brands like Advair, Crestor, Lyrica and Nexium, all increased an average of 12 percent every year for five years — nearly 10-times higher than the rate of inflation, the report found.

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Twelve of those drugs saw their prices increase by more than 50 percent in the five-year period. Six of the 20 had prices increases of over 100 percent. In one case, the cost for a single drug increased by 477 percent over a five-year period, according to the report.

But Pfizer, the manufacturer of that drug, told The Hill that the report was incorrect. According to the company, the cost of a 100 pill bottle of Nitrostat was $52.19 in 2017, not $91.76 as cited in the report. That means the price of the drug increased 228 percent, not 477 percent."  

In addition, the report found that while prescriptions for top brand-name drugs dropped by 48 million, revenue increased by $8.5 billion over the last five years.

“This report demonstrates that the pricing decisions made by these drug companies are outrageous,” McCaskill said in a statement.

To determine average cost, the report used the annual wholesale acquisition cost, which is an estimate of the manufacturer’s list price for a drug to wholesalers or direct purchasers.

But list prices rarely represent what manufacturers are paid for the drug, as they don’t include discounts or rebates provided to insurers, providers or pharmacy benefit managers. Research has shown net prices have also risen in recent years, but at a slower pace than list prices.

But even the net prices don’t always show how much patients will pay. The rebates and fees negotiated between manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers are privately negotiated and don’t have to be publicly disclosed.

And with seniors, Medicare will cover some of the costs of prescription drugs. But McCaskill’s report noted that even with Medicare, seniors face substantial out-of-pocket costs, particularly for specialty and brand-name drugs.

In 2013, the latest year for which data was available, prescription drugs accounted for nearly $1 in every $5 that Medicare beneficiaries spent on out-of-pocket on health-care services.

Soaring drug prices have become a national concern as they account for an increasingly larger share of health care spending.

Democrats and Republicans both agree something needs to be done to curb the cost, but differ on ways to accomplish it.

Democrats want Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies on prices, while Republicans are focusing on introducing more generic drugs to increase competition in the market.

McCaskill is one of several bipartisan sponsors of legislation to prohibit “pharmacy gag clauses” that can hide potential savings on prescriptions from consumers at the pharmacy counter.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE has blamed high costs on drug lobbies and the complex distribution system and last week promised to roll out a slate of proposals aimed at lowering drug costs.

Updated at 4:10 p.m. on 3/27/2018