Wholesale prices for popular brand-name drugs rose 6.3 percent between June 2005 and June 2006, a study released by the seniors’ group AARP concluded Tuesday.
That's nearly double the rate of general inflation.
The increase translates to an average of $283 dollars in additional drug costs for Americans over 50, who on average take four prescription medications. Most of the prescriptions are for chronic, ongoing conditions, the report says.
The study looks at wholesale prices that drug makers charge distributors, not retail prices paid at the pharmacy. But AARP, the nation’s largest and most powerful senior citizens’ lobbying group, warned that such price increases are passed along to consumers, many of whom lack insurance.
“We can’t imagine a system in which wholesalers are eating these cost increases,” Dalmer Hoskins, managing director of the AARP Public Policy Institute, told reporters.
Prices Outpace Inflation
The study looks at 193 of the most commonly used drugs by Americans over 50. Prices for more than 70 of the drugs went up 3 percent to 5 percent between June 2005 and June 2006. Fifty-eight drugs rose 5.1 percent to 7.5 percent, while three rose 10 percent or more.
At the same time, manufacturers' prices for generic drugs rose 0.4 percent, a fraction of the 3.8 percent inflation rate, the report showed.
The study marks the seventh straight year the organization has recorded wholesale prices outpacing inflation.
WebMD contacted a drug makers' group -- the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) -- to get reaction to the AARP report. At publishing time a statement had not yet been received.
Wholesale Prices and Medicare
It is unclear how the wholesale price increases would affect spending by millions of seniors who have private insurance or Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. Medicare officials said earlier this month that while premiums for outpatient medical services will go up next year, they expect prescription drug plan premiums to remain the same on average.
David Certner, AARP’s chief legislative counsel, says increasing drug prices help raise the overall cost of health care across the board. Four million AARP members lack health insurance and must pay out of pocket for their drugs or seek charity help from drug companies if they qualify.
Some seniors with high drug costs may soon confront Medicare Part D’s $2,250 coverage limit, also known as the "donut hole." Beneficiaries who surpass the limit must pay all of their drug costs until they reach $5,100 in annual spending.
“These [increases] are being built into the health costs people are paying, one way or the other,” Certner says.
Capitol Hill Perspective
On Capitol Hill, both the House and Senate have passed amendments that would legalize some form of prescription drugs from Canada and other industrialized nations. No agreement has been reached on a final form. Supporters argue that allowing importation would bring U.S. drug prices closer to typically lower prices paid in other countries.
Certner says AARP will take “one last opportunity” to force Congress to pass a drug importation measure before the end of the year. The Bush administration and drug makers have warned that allowing importation would open up the U.S. market to potentially unsafe or counterfeit drugs.
AARP on Tuesday launched series of television ads designed to put pressure on lawmakers to pass the plan.
In a separate AARP survey, 47 percent to 48 percent of Americans over 51 years of age said that prescription costs would be very important in their voting decisions in the upcoming midterm election. One-third of Americans between age 42 and 50 said the issue was very important to them.
By Todd Zwillich, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
SOURCES: AARP Rx Watchdog Report on Manufacturers’ Prices for Prescription Drugs in the Second Quarter of 2006, AARP, Sept. 19, 2006. Dalmer Hoskins, managing director, AARP Public Policy Institute. David Certner, chief legislative counsel, AARP.