Health Inc.

Brand-Name Drug Prices Roar Ahead, Even As Inflation Remains Tame

Inflation is pretty quiet, except when it comes to prescription drugs.

Dollar sign made of pills

More brand-name pills have bigger price tags, AARP says. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com

In its latest report on drug prices, the AARP finds prices are up — way up — for the brand-name drugs used most often by Medicare recipients. For the year ending in March, prices shot up 9.7 percent compared with the same period the year before.

The prices of commonly used generic drugs used fell by the same amount the brand-name drugs increased — 9.7 percent. How about inflation? AARP cites the Consumer Price Index, which rose just 0.3 percent.

Exact drug prices are difficult to pin down because insurers, drug benefit managers and the government get rebates and discounts from list prices. Still, the price data analyzed by AARP, called wholesale acquisition costs, represent a widely referenced benchmark.

The trend is clear in any case. Brand-name drug prices are galloping upward just before drugmakers have to start paying a new tax in 2011 to help pay for health overhaul. AARP says it's the biggest jump since at least 2002.

Which drugs jumped the most?

Among the big movers cited by AARP are AstraZeneca's antipsychotic Seroquel, up about 16 percent, and Boerhinger Ingelheim's prostate medicine Flomax, up 27.6 percent. A bunch of treatments for multiple sclerosis also had big price jumps, including Teva's Copaxone, up 24.8 percent, and Bayer's Betaseron, up 25.7 percent.

Update: In a statement, the drug industy trade group PhRMA disputed the report, saying it was "based on incomplete information."

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