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​7 Prescription-Drug Price Hikes Cost U.S. Nearly $1.7 Billion in 2020

​Higher prices come despite no increased benefits from those medicines, new report finds

A box of the drug Humira

Jb Reed/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Prescription-drug price increases among 7 of 10 top-selling medications cost the U.S. health care system almost $1.7 billion in 2020, according to a recent report from the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review.

The institute looked at 10 of the top 250 best-selling prescription drugs last year and found that 7 of the 10 price hikes did not come because the effectiveness of these medications increased. The report called these price increases "unsupported."

One drug — Humira, used for severe Crohn’s disease — alone accounted for $1.4 billion of the $1.67 billion increase in U.S. drug spending.

While many brand-name drugs continue to hit the market with very high prices, the yearly price increases have moderated, the institute found. "However, there remain many high-cost brand drugs that continue to experience annual price hikes," David Rind, the institute's chief medical officer said in a statement. "The most extreme of these is Humira, with an ever-escalating U.S. price that contrasts starkly to its falling price in every country where Humira faces biosimilar competition." Biosimilars are generic alternatives to biologic medications.

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Here's a look at the seven medications the institute analyzed. The costs to the U.S. health care system were calculated after accounting for pharmaceutical company rebates and other discounts. 

  • The price of Humira, which treats severe Crohn’s disease, increased by 9.6 percent. Cost to U.S.: $1.4 billion.
  • The price of Promacta, which treats a blood disorder called chronic immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), increased by 14.1 percent. Cost to U.S.: $100 million.
  • The price of Tysabri, a monoclonal antibody used to treat multiple sclerosis, increased by 4.2 percent. Cost to U.S.: $44 million.
  • The price of Xifaxan, used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, increased by 3 percent. Cost to U.S.: $44 million.
  • The price of Trokendi, used to prevent migraine headaches, increased by 12.4 percent. Cost to U.S.: $36 million.
  • The price of Lupron Depot, used to treat endometriosis in women and prostate cancer in men, increased by 5.9 percent. Cost to U.S.: $30 million.
  • The price of Krystexxa, used to treat chronic gout, increased by 5.2 percent. Cost to U.S.: $19 million. 

AARP continues fight for lower drug prices

The report's findings are consistent with AARP Price Watch reports that show brand-name drug price increases continue to outpace inflation. The latest AARP report found that in 2020, prices for 260 commonly used medications whose prices AARP has been tracking since 2006 increased 2.9 percent while the general rate of inflation was 1.3 percent.

AARP's Fair Rx Prices Now campaign has been focused on convincing federal and state lawmakers to take action to lower the prices of prescription drugs.  

On Nov. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would provide some financial relief to patients. Under the Build Back Better Act, supported by AARP, Medicare would be able for the first time to negotiate the price of some drugs, the cost of some insulin would be capped at $35 a month, drugmakers would face tax penalties if they raise prices more than inflation, and out-of-pocket costs for Part D prescription drugs would be capped at $2,000 a year. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate.

Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.