Branded meds post biggest price hike in years

The economy may be in a down cycle, but branded drug prices are up--way up, according to an annual AARP survey. Prices for the AARP's 217 selected drugs that are commonly used by older Americans increased an average of 8.3 percent in 2009. That's the biggest one-year increase in years, the New York Times reports. And it comes at a time when overall inflation was negative.

That's not to say that drug prices haven't been on the rise in recent years. Prices for the most popular branded meds have increased by 41.5 percent over the past five years, AARP says. Over the same period, the consumer price index grew by 13.3 percent.

Drug industry officials have criticized the study, saying select brand-name prices failed to reflect the reality of more people using less expensive generic drugs. Generics now account for roughly 75 percent of all dispensed prescriptions in the U.S., according to IMS Health. A recent government survey that did include generics calculated an overall price increase of just 3.4 percent for 2009.

The biggest retail price increase in 2009 was the prostate drug Flomax from Boehringer Ingelheim, which saw a 24.8 percent increase to $4.09 per pill. Flomax now has generic competition. Prices for some other popular drugs grew at below-average rates. AstraZeneca's Nexium saw a 6 percent increase to $5.40 per day, for instance, and Pfizer's Lipitor got a 4.1 percent increase to $4.03.

- read the NYT piece