ELDER MUSIC: Oz Rock Bands

Prescription Drug Prices Off the Charts

It's almost that time of year again, the annual open enrollment period for Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) that will take place from 15 October to 7 December 2018. We'll have a more detailed discussion of that here in a couple of weeks.

For now, you should know about the most recent annual report from the AARP Public Policy Institute titled (exhaustively), AARP Public Policy Institute Trends in Retail Prices of Brand Name Prescription Drugs Widely Used by Older Americans: 2017 Year-End Update.

It was released last week and it is not good news. According to the report, summarized at AARP,

The retail prices of some of the most popular prescription drugs older Americans take to treat everything from diabetes to high blood pressure to asthma increased by an average of 8.4 percent in 2017, far exceeding the 2.1 percent inflation rate for other consumer goods and services...

“The report shows that the annual average retail cost for just one popular brand-name drug among the 267 that AARP studied would have been nearly $6,800 in 2017.

“But had pharmaceutical price increases been limited to the country’s general inflation rate between 2006 and 2017, that cost would have been more than $4,600 lower. Retail prices increased in 2017 for 87 percent of the brand-name drugs studied.”

The report notes that the retail price of one widely used brand-name drug to treat fibromyalgia, Lyrica,

”...increased by 19.3 percent; the price of diabetes drug Januvia increased by 8.2 percent; and the price of Benicar, a widely used medicine for high blood pressure, increased by 17.8 percent.”

Here is a chart from page 12 of the report showing what the average price of the prescription drugs would be if increases had matched overall inflation:


The researchers have sliced and diced their price findings about a dozen different ways but the numbers come out all the same: jaw-dropping increases. Among the highlights (well, I suppose we ought to call them lowlights):

“Brand name drug prices increased four times faster than the 2017 general inflation rate”

“Retail prices in 2017 increased for 87 percent of the 267 brand name drugs studied”

“Retail prices for 113 chronic-use brand name drugs on the market since at least 2006 increased cumulatively over 12 years by an average of 214 percent compared with the cumulative general inflation rate of 25 percent between 2006 to 2017”

After a lifetime of good health requiring no more prescription drugs than an occasional antibiotic, I found out first hand this past year about the cost of drugs. It's frightening.

One of the giant problems with Medicare prescription drug plans is that none of us has any way to predict what drugs we may need in the coming year and the varying providers have different formularies.

Since I am not a fortune teller, until my cancer diagnosis in 2017, I had always chosen the cheapest coverage.

Then, during the Part D enrollment period for 2018 last year, I knew what drugs I would need to continue taking I made an informed choice of which policy would be best for me.

That worked well enough until, in May, I was prescribed an expensive drug not covered by my provider. Oof. That was tough.

Many Medicare beneficiaries who take more than one or two prescription drugs has his/her own story about that kind of sticker shock but we'll discuss that another day.

Among the study's concluding observations are these two strong charges:

”Current market forces do not adequately protect against excessive brand name drug prices and price increases, and the resulting growth in pharmaceutical expenditures is not sustainable.”
“Current pricing practices for brand name pharmaceuticals are a threat to the health and financial security of individual consumers and to taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

“Brand name prescription drugs can provide substantial health benefits including improved health outcomes; however, these benefits are only available to those who can afford to use them.”

You can read the full AARP report here. [pdf]


Heavens forbid that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people should step in and do something about this assault on the health and well-being of its citizens. It's a shame that anytime someone speaks of government intervention, cries of "communist" and "socialist" can be heard from the other side of the aisle.

The Ruth Bader Ginsberg joke continues to play Every Time I open this blog. Please fix

Sheer gall approved by the one percent with 100 perfect health care provisions. From decades of jaw-dropping wondrous acts, laws, policies to repugnant everything the so-called government does, allows, endorses, champions. May this accursed administration end not a minute too soon, and may its enablers  — especially those millions ignorant of what they endorse learn, listen, think through clearly even as their legitimate long-overlooked issues are addressed. My rant/prayer does nothing to lower prices yesterday or enact fair pricing regulations.

Thank you, Ronni, for always bringing us into the light whether we like what it shines on or not. I am not a fan of denial or passive fatalism. XOXOXO

I'm having the same problem as Diane D.

Sometimes (well, a lot of times) I think certain of our government officials and their various donors are in cahoots to diminish certain populations by any means; including exclusion from helpful medicines, pricing them out of decent housing, letting them live in polluted environments—hoping they will just go away.

If ever there was a place where government regulation makes perfect sense, the drug industry is it.

Diane D and PatM...

I've tested the Ginsburg clip again in three browsers - it does not start automatically in any of them so the likely answer is that it is at your end in a browser setting. But I don't have time to do a thorough investigation so I just removed the clip. Sorry to everyone else.

I have the same problem as the others. I have tried it three times; it is present each time. Not sure what you mean about "removing the clip."

Ruth-Ellen Joeres

Yup with the ongoing clip problem. I deleted your link from my favorites, added it back, and still, it plays. Same with opening the site from Google. Very strange. I have to mute the audio before I click to enjoy your site.

The clip has been deleted from the story. It's gone. Clear your cache.

Obviously the pharmaceutical companies need that extra income to pay for their extraordinary deluge of tv ads!

I noted that the report is referring to brand name drugs, not generics. Fortunately all my meds are available as generics, at least for now. But I'll have to carefully check the formulary for 2019 to make sure nothing's changed. Will also have to check to make sure all my doctors are still included.

For as many years as I can remember it was illegal for the pharmaceutical industry to advertise or bribe doctors. When they changed this rule (blast them) it opened the floodgates for expensive TV ads and sky-high prices for our drugs.

We have to start demanding more from our Congresspersons.

I received the Medicare and You book this weekend and checked the part D plans available in my state. Wow. I haven't had to look at them for a couple of years, as we get our prescriptions through other sources, but premiums, deductibles and co-pays/co-insurance are significantly higher than what I remember. I see that closing the gap also hasn't had a great effect on costs either.

Depressing and unconscionable--along with much else of what is happening in "our democracy" these days! My husband and I are fortunate to be covered by his excellent retiree health plan that pays for most Rx drugs. If we had to pay out of pocket for health care, including meds, we'd probably be close to the poverty line.

The rising price of Rx drugs is wrong on so many levels, but I don't see anything changing as long as Agent Orange and his sycophants (e.g., the Rethuglican Congress) are running things. Their interests so obviously are not aligned with those of ordinary Americans--I wonder constantly how 30% of voters apparently cannot see that.

My representative sent out one of his "60 second" surveys about this issue. I take offense at his way of checking in with his constituents. Maybe he will read this article, and even the longer AARP report. BTW--finding a personal email address for this guy was a challenge. I refused to use his canned emails on his web site. When I insisted, the woman on the phone relented and gave me his direct (I suppose) email address.

Cache has been cleared to no avail. My computer is haunted with a really terrible joke! Well, it is October...

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)