January 27th, 2012 at 10:49 am
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AARP study reveals rising medication costs for seniors

by Dorian Martin

One of my regular duties is picking up my dad’s prescriptions at the pharmacy. He’s on five different medications for issues ranging from high blood pressure to an enlarged prostate. Fortunately, his Medicare Part D insurance lowers the cost until the end of the year when the donut hole kicks in. That’s when my mouth drops at the price for his prescriptions.

Medication costs escalate for seniors

And it turns out that these prices have continued climbing. A new AARP report provides an eye-opening analysis of prescription prices. The findings include the following:

  1. The average annual increase for the 122 most widely used specialty prescription drugs was almost 9 percent in 2009. That increase was notably higher than the increases in retail prices during the prior five years, which ranged from 6.5 percent to 8.5 percent during 2005-2008.
  2. Retail prices for 90 specialty drugs that have been sold since December 2004 had increased more than 50 percent by December 2009. As a reference, general inflation was 13.3 percent during this same period.
  3. In 2009, the average annual retail cost for a specialty medication, often used for chronic conditions, was approximately $29,000. The annual cost for these drugs increased about $11,000 between 2004-2009.
  4. Retail prices for 87 of 113 specialty prescription drugs increased beyond the rate of general inflation during 2009.
  5. Twenty-one drug manufacturers with at least two drug products that were part of the study’s analysis had average increases in retail prices that exceeded the rate of general inflation in 2009. The top increases by drug manufacturers were by APP Pharm (75.6 percent increase), Bayer Healthcare Pharm (22.0 percent increase) and Biogen Idec (20.3 percent increase).
  6. Twenty therapeutic categories of specialty drug products had price increases that exceeded the rate of general inflation in 2009. Topping this list were Vancomycin (23.5 percent increase), multiple sclerosis agents (22.8 percent increase), pulmonary hypertension (15.1 percent increase) and respiratory inhalants (15.1 percent increase).

While the health care reform legislation is supposed to phase out the Medicare Part D coverage gap through providing discounts on brand name, biologic and generic prescription drugs, AARP noted that enrollees will still be exposed to the donut hole until 2020 (when legislation is fully implemented). However, AARP warned that the value of closing the donut hole may be eroded if the escalation in drug prices is not addressed.

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