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Price hikes doubled average drug rate over seven years

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TRENTON / AP

The average cost for a year’s supply of a prescription drug doubled in just seven years to more than $11,000 — about three-quarters of the average annual Social Security benefit.
That’s according to the latest study of price trends for widely-used drugs conducted by AARP, the senior citizens advocacy group. It finds prices for existing drugs, driven entirely by manufacturer price hikes, have been rising more quickly since 2007 and likely will continue to do so.
AARP says its research shows drugmaker price hikes imposed one or more times a year are making prescription medicines increasingly unaffordable for retirees and many other patients. That’s particularly true for people taking multiple drugs or needing long-term medication for chronic health problems, not to mention the uninsured.
An August poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 24 percent of Americans were having trouble paying for their medicines. That rose to 43 percent for those in poor health.
Retail prices for already-approved medicines often are increased 10 percent or more each year. That exacerbates the sting of six-figure prices for many newly launched drugs, plus exorbitant spikes in prices of some generic drugs with limited competition. Those trends have triggered multiple congressional investigations since last summer and made prescription drug prices a hot issue in the presidential race.
“Our concern with the prices we’re seeing is that the overall trend is really accelerating,” said Leigh Purvis, director of health services research in AARP’s Public Policy Institute.
AARP’s latest RxPrice Watch report, being released Monday, found the average retailprice among 622 prescription medicines widely used by seniors more than doubled from $5,571 in 2006 to an “incredible” $11,341 in 2013, Purvis said.
That’s unaffordable for the many retirees with low incomes and limited savings, she added. In 2013, the average Social Security benefit was $15,526 and medium income for Medicare beneficiaries was $23,500.
Prices for those 622 widely used drugs — a mix of generic pills, brand-name drugs and high-priced “specialty drugs” for complex conditions — jumped 9.4 percent alone in 2013, the most recent data AARP had. That jump was six times the 2013 general inflation rate and far above increases ranging from 3.6 percent to 7.6 percent between 2006 and 2012.
Specialty drugs for cancer, hepatitis C and rare diseases — many of them injected biologic drugs, which are produced inside cells rather than by mixing chemicals — drove the increase.

The average widely used specialty drug cost $53,384 in 2013, 18 times the average annual cost for a brand-name drug ($2,960) and 189 times higher than the average price for a generic drug ($283).

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