The prices of brand-name drugs used by many old Americans rose nearly 130 times faster than inflation last year, a new study reports.
“This new report once again highlights the high and unrelenting price increases that are shockingly common in the pharmaceutical market,” said Debra Whitman. She is chief public policy officer at AARP, a nonprofit organization focused on social welfare issues.
“What’s particularly remarkable is that these incredibly high price increases are still occurring in the face of the intense public and congressional criticism of prescription drug pricing practices,” Whitman said in an AAPR news release.
The researchers examined the prices of 268 brand-name prescription drugs widely used by seniors, including 49 in drug categories that are used to treat common and often chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
The average older person takes 4.5 prescription drugs a month. This means that current average yearly drug costs could be as much as $26,000, the researchers suggested.
The average median income of Medicare beneficiaries is $24,150.
The drug prices in the report are the total costs, and may not represent the actual out-of-pocket costs that a Medicare patient would pay at the pharmacy, the report authors noted.
Of the 268 drugs included in the report, 97% had retail price increases in 2015. Seven had average price increases of more than 50%. Five of the six drugs with the highest price increases were marketed by Valeant Pharmaceuticals. The price of the company’s anti-anxiety drug Ativan rose of 2,800% between 2006 and 2015, the study authors said.
Report co-author Leigh Purvis said that “prescription drug therapy is not affordable when its cost exceeds the patient’s entire income.” Purvis is director of health services research at the AARP Public Policy Institute.
“Even if patients are fortunate enough to have good health care coverage, high prescription drug costs translate into higher out-of-pocket costs – especially for those who pay a percentage of drugs costs rather than a fixed co-payment – as well as higher premiums, deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing,” Purvis said.
A large percentage of our elderly population has to choose between buying food or drugs. As this report highlights, the ever rising cost of prescription drugs is a real problem. We are the only developed country in the world that does not restrict drug prices. That’s why so many people order drugs online from other countries.
The second issue is the number of drugs we take. This study indicates seniors, on average, take 4.5 prescription drugs. This is just short of polypharmacy, which by definition is 5 or more prescription drugs.
Just look at Ativan, the anti-anxiety drug used as a graphic example. Physicians routinely place seniors of anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants and sleep aids. Add these drugs to the scripts for high blood pressure and high cholesterol and you have the average American senior.
Of course, I would argue that the statins and hypertensive drugs could potentially be replaced by diet and lifestyle changes. But even if I concede that point, why do seniors need a pill to reduce anxiety, elevate their mood and help them go to sleep at night? I think we are failing our senior population. If they have a purpose and relative good health, then these drugs should not be necessary.
The Bottom Line:
Yes, Big Pharm is greedy and we need to do more than wag a finger at them. Shame will not overcome corporate greed. However, physicians must return to being health care providers rather than drug pushers to really change our health care system.
Source: December 14, 2016 National Institutes of Health