Study says prices of 50 most prescribed drugs for seniors tripled inflation rate last year

Monday, June 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The prices of the 50 most prescribed drugs for older Americans rose, on average, at almost triple the overall rate of inflation last year, a study says.

The liberal consumer advocacy group Families USA released the report in advance of the House debate scheduled to start Wednesday on a Republican-backed bill that would spend $310 billion over 10 years to provide seniors with a prescription drug benefit.

``Prescription drugs for seniors are becoming increasingly unaffordable,'' said Ron Pollack, Family USA's executive director. ``Some of the most popular drugs increased at intervals of eight and nine times.''

Jeff Trewitt, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry's trade group, said the report was misleading.

``The report completely ignores the fact that retail prices vary widely among pharmacies in a single community,'' Trewitt said. ``Retail prices of the same medicine can vary by more than 100 percent within a few city blocks. It is essential we correct the notion that all elderly patients pay the same price for the same drug.''

Besides, Trewitt said, ``the pharmaceutical price tag is almost always far cheaper than the cost of surgery and hospitalization.''

According to the report, the drugs Demadex, a diuretic, and Premarin, an estrogen replacement drug, both rose 17.8 percent, almost seven times the rate of inflation last year.

Plavix, an anti-platelet drug, rose 16.8 percent, more than six times the inflation rate, while the cholesterol-lowering Lipitor rose five times the rate of inflation.

The report used data from Pennsylvania's state-run prescription drug program for the elderly, those 65 and older, to develop the list of the 50 top-selling drugs. Price histories were then obtained from a database published by Medi-Span/Facts and Comparisons.

The rate of inflation used in the report, 2.7 percent, is for January 2001 to January 2002 and excludes highly volatile energy and food prices.

``There is no reasonable basis for these alarming price increases, which continue to make prescription drugs unaffordable for too many seniors,'' Pollack said.

The study found that 10 of the 50 most-prescribed drugs for seniors are generics. The average annual price for those drugs was $375. Nine of those drugs did not increase in price at all.

The other 40 most prescribed drugs are brand-name medications with an average annual price of $1,106. Only three of the brand-name drugs did not increase in price last year.

Pollack said the study showed that ``generics are not only cheaper, but they are generally rising in price at much slower rates than brand-name drugs.''

The rapid rise in prices means that even if Congress passes a prescription drug benefit, it may eventually be too costly even for the government, Pollack said.