Brand-name drug prices skyrocket

Prices for generics, however, are falling. Consumers who have the choice are crazy not to go for generic drugs.

By Jonathan Berr Nov 29, 2012 1:54PM
Image: Prescription medicine expenses -- Don Farrall, Photodisc, Getty ImagesEvery time I hear about rising drug prices, I think about how lucky I am that my medications are low-priced generics. Many others are not as fortunate.

A study released by Express Scripts found that prices for brand-name drugs rose 13.2% this year, more than six times the rate of inflation. Conversely, prices for generics went down by about 22% during that same time (from September 2011 to September 2012). The pharmaceutical industry, not surprisingly, is disputing the study's findings, saying it was skewed because it included expensive specialty medicines. A spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America couldn't immediately be reached.

Express Scripts' report, though, should be a wakeup call even to the healthy, who wind up paying the costs of these drugs either through their health insurance premiums or tax dollars for entitlement programs.
"What it all points to is this: Patients choosing a market basket of brand-name medications instead of clinically equivalent generics are being charged a higher premium than ever before," according to the pharmacy benefits manager. "The financial incentive for both patients and their plan sponsors to switch to generics has never been greater."

Some people are forced to decide between paying their mortgage and their medicine. A study published in 2009 found that medical bills are a factor in more than 60% of personal bankruptcies. Overall health care expenditures hit more than $2 trillion in 2010, more than 10 times the $256 billion spent in 1980, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Rising drug costs are one of the main culprits behind all of these problems.

People who have multiple sclerosis know this issue all too well. Some medications to treat the neurological disorder can cost $30,000 a year. A study published in the journal Neurology found that these medications were very expensive and marginally beneficial, according to the New York Times.   MS patients try to stretch their health care dollars by skipping doses and splitting pills.

"They have to give up vacations and certain kinds of family events because they just don't have the disposable income," said Dr. Nicholas LaRocca, vice president of health care delivery and policy at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, in an interview.

The Express Scripts study also found that spending on specialty medicines has increased nearly 23% this year while spending on traditional medicines declined, which illustrates how competition can help keep prices down for everyone. Specialty medicines are also quite lucrative. As the New York Times noted, all but one of the new drugs approved in third quarter were specialty medicines, many of which were approved to treat advanced cancers that other treatments had failed to address.
I am fortunate that the cost to treat my condition averages about $15 every other month and is being managed effectively.  Maybe one day, a big pharmaceutical company will develop an expensive blockbuster treatment, but I will cross that bridge when that happens. Maybe like millions of other Americans, I will buy my medications from low-cost Canadian pharmacies.

--Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberrAdds details on MS

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Tags: Economy
Nov 30, 2012 9:38AM
Yup, some of the brand names not available generically become the most expensive then sick folks who really need them go without, our last trip to the pharmacy was $517 after insurance paid.... so eventually when the old people or disabled can't pay then they go without the medications which ultimately solves the problem of too many old folks..... my late husband one of his meds was injectible but neither Medicare nor supplement  insurance would not pay for it at $435 per dose so I could give him the shots at home..... but Medicare WOULD pay for it at the out-patient hospital clinic where they charged $1200+ per shot, then they wonder why Medicare is going broke.....  Well, the politicos have great health benefits so they don't need to worry who pays for their meds next time, so why should anything change??
Nov 29, 2012 11:35PM
Drugs are the biggest money maker in all healthcare.
Nov 29, 2012 7:46PM
I am sorry but I really don't understand most of these comments blaming Democrats. 

I am a physician.  The healthcare system in the USA is the most expensive in the world. While it is good, it is far from the best in the world.  Why?  For profit health insurance and procedure based physician reimbursement.  It is not that complicated.

Healthcare that is focused on maintaining health rather than treating end stage disease is not a priority.  Those without insurance put off care until it is expensive and this ends up on the public dole.  This is an expensive tragedy. 

Pharma invests billions in new drugs and the American health consumer largely pays for it while the world benefits.  A SINGLE patient in a clinical drug trial I have been involved with cost the study in excess of $25,000.  It is very costly.  Republicans and their special interest groups largely represent Pharma. It is BIG money.  I personally paid less than two Euros in Europe for the exact same medicine from the same manufacturer that costs $38 dollars in the USA.

Healthcare issues in this country are very complex and in need of reform.  Don't blame Democrats or Republicans for the cost of pills - it just doesn't make sense and stinks of ignorance.

Nov 29, 2012 6:25PM
I don't understand why America doesn't turn out in the streets.  I would think everyone has someone in their family who has died from legal drugs.  The problem may be the doctors say "natural causes" and nobody looks into it.   People don't intend to become addicted.  They want to feel better.  They want to stop hurting.  They want to ease the pain.  We all do.  But, some take more than they should thinking they can handle it.  And, the drug lords want it this way.  It is money to them.  I will never understand why Americans behave like animals.  Ten animals will stand around and let one animal kill another when they could easily disable the attacker.  Humans are no different.  If we practiced "agape love" we would come to the aid of those hurt by legal drugs.  We would take Big Pharma and Congress on if we were what we should be.  But, nobody wants to get involved.
Nov 29, 2012 6:16PM
Don't think for a moment the FDA wants to cure you or to help you.  If the FDA were truly looking out for us, we wouldn't have the meninjitis epidemic.  The FDA is a business.  It is there to make money.  Why do you think the legal drug lords endlessly promote "ask your doctor...." ads?  People want their pills.  The FDA wants to keep their supply ready.  What other business can afford endless national television ads at hundreds of thouseands of dollars every 30 seconds?  Do you think the legal drug lords are paying for those ads without charging it to you?  Waat will Congress do when all of America is addicted?  Who will pay taxes then?  It is coming while we twiddle our fingers.
Nov 29, 2012 5:52PM
Wow what a surprise.  Guess you can thank you favorite democrat for this.  Guess the next thing that happens is you insurance rate go up to pay for it.  How much money does big pharma have to return to the government because of the Obamacare?  You voted for it so keep your mouth shut.
Nov 29, 2012 5:47PM
Time to rewrite the medicare drug bill so medicare can negotiate drug prices!  Pharma should not be   writing this country's laws.
Nov 29, 2012 4:05PM
Bend over, insert prescription twice a day and call your local quack in the morning to get more prescriptions to treat the side effects of the original prescription. Repeat each day until new side effects occur and then repeat the proceedure again. Continue normal routine until no new side effects arise. All known side effects should disappear shortly after death. WAFJ
Nov 29, 2012 3:36PM
The more money government throws at prescription drugs, the more they will cost. Drug prices have skyrocketed since the democratic congress under Bushe demanded prescription drug coverage. Wait until you see the prices under Obama care.  We won't be working for a paycheck, we will be working for health care coverage. 
Nov 29, 2012 2:28PM

This is a bit too negative MSN......... please have a big glass of koolaid and re-write this with a postivie spin........


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