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WASHINGTON _ The price of the prescription drugs most commonly used by the elderly increased more than three times the rate of inflation last year, according to a study released Wednesday.
The study found that of the 50 most prescribed drugs for the elderly, the average price increase from January 2002 to January 2003 was 6 percent, or nearly three and a half times the rate of inflation, which was 1.8 percent.
"This means more and more seniors are being priced out of the drugs they need," said Ron Pollack, (cq) executive director of Families USA, which produced the study.
"These alarming price increases continue to eat away at the fixed incomes of senior citizens, especially those low-income seniors who make up one-third of those in Medicare and who can least afford to pay for their medicines," Pollack said
Responding to the study, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry's trade association, issued a statement criticizing Families USA for not factoring in drug companies' programs to provide free medicines and discount programs to the elderly.
"Regrettably, Families USA has decided to continue complaining about prescription medicines, rather than to pitch in and help seniors get the medicines they need," said the PhRMA statement.
The study used data compiled from the Pennsylvania Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly program with assistance from the PRIME Institute at the University of Minnesota to look at price increases for the 50 top-selling prescriptions used by the elderly.
The study found that 27 of the 50 drugs increased by more than three times the inflation rate last year, while 37 increased by at least one and a half times the inflation rate.
Asked why the increase, Pollack said: "if you want one word, it's 'profit.' If you want two words, it's 'big profit.' "
Faced with no competition for brand-name prescriptions and advertising-driven increases in demand, drug companies believe "the sky is the limit" for price increases, Pollack said.
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Of the 50 top drugs for seniors, 35 were brand-name and 15 were generic. Prices for the brand-name drugs rose an average of 7.1 percent, compared to 2.6 percent for generic drugs. Among the brand-name drugs, only three of the 35 did not have a price increase last year, while nine of the 15 generic drugs did not increase last year.
Families USA used the report to spotlight its support for provisions in the Senate's Medicare drug bill that would help low-income elderly pay for prescriptions. Conferees from the House and Senate are scheduled to meet this month to begin resolving differences in the Medicare bills passed by both houses last month.
Pollack noted that a low-income Medicare beneficiary with drug costs of $2,968 a year would pay $74 under the Senate bill, compared to $1,084 under the House bill.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who participated in the Families USA news conference, called the drug increases "immoral" and urged congressional conferees to adopt Senate language in the Medicare reform bills that would speed generic drugs to market and allow Americans to more easily purchase prescriptions from Canada.
On the Web:
Families USA: www.familiesusa.org
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: www.phrma.org
Larry Lipman's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Cox News Service