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Prescription drug prices increase by double the rate of inflation


By Mike Festa, State Director-AARP Massachusetts

Consumers all across America have to choose between filling life-saving prescriptions and paying rent, buying food and affording other essentials.

AARP’s most recent Rx Price Watch report found that in 2017, retail prices for widely used brand-name medicines increased an average of 8.4 percent, and charges for commonly used specialty drugs increased by 7 percent. Specialty drugs are high-cost medicines, usually injected and often needed to treat serious illnesses such as cancer. The large increases in those two categories of drugs combined more than offset the 9.3 percent decrease for widely used generic medications in 2017, the new report found. Overall, the average annual increase in retail prices was 4.2 percent — twice the 2.1 percent general rate of inflation that year.

The report analyzed three types of widely used prescription drugs and found that price growth for brand name and specialty drugs more than offset price decreases for generic drugs.

  • Retail prices for widely used generic drug products decreased by an average of 9.3% (average annual cost: $365).
  • Retail prices for widely used brand name drug products increased by an average of 8.4% (average annual cost: $6,798).
  • Retail prices for widely used specialty drug products increased by an average of 7.0% (average annual cost: $78,871).

Prior to 2017, the average annual cost of four widely-used prescription drugs increased nearly 58 percent in a five year period from 2012, while annual incomes across America increased by just over 13 percent, according to AARP research. In Massachusetts, a recently released AARP survey shows price increases for brand-name prescription drugs far outpace consumer incomes and annual inflation.

  • In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the average annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased 57.8% between 2012 and 2017, while annual income for Bay State residents increased 15.3%.
  • Nationally, survey findings reveal that the average annual cost for one brand name drug used on a chronic basis was $6,800 in 2017, almost $1,000 more than in 2015.
  • The average older American takes 4.5 prescription drugs, typically on a chronic basis.
  • Nearly 80% of every Big Pharma dollar goes to something other than research and development.
  • Americans pay double what similar countries pay for the same brand name drugs.
  • Big Pharma spent nearly $169 million for lobbying and more than $6 billion for advertising in 2018.

Stop Rx Greed,’ is a nationwide campaign by AARP aimed at lowering prescription drug prices. The goal of AARP’s sustained campaign is to help drive down drug prices for Commonwealth residents and all Americans by advocating for a variety of legislative, executive, and regulatory actions at both the federal and state level.

As part of the campaign, AARP supports a number of policy solutions at the national and state level to help lower drug prices, including:

  • Allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.
  • Allowing states to negotiate lower prices with drug companies.
  • Giving state Attorneys General authority to crack down on outrageous price increases.
  • Clamping down on pay-for-delay and other loopholes that keep lower cost generic drugs off the market.
  • Capping consumers’ prescription drug out-of-pocket costs.
  • Preserving state pharmacy assistance programs.

For more about Stop Rx Greed and how you can get involved, visit www.aarp.org/rx.