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Rx Price Watch Report: Trends in Retail Prices of Specialty Prescription Drugs Widely Used by Older Americans, 2017 Skip to content

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Rx Price Watch Report: Trends in Retail Prices of Specialty Prescription Drugs Widely Used by Older Americans, 2017 Year-End Update

The latest Rx Price Watch report by Leigh Purvis and Dr. Stephen W. Schondelmeyer finds that retail prices for widely used specialty prescription drugs increased by 7.0 percent between 2016 and 2017. In contrast, the general inflation rate was 2.1 percent over the same period.

In 2017, the average annual retail cost of prescription drug therapy for a single specialty drug was $78,781 per year. This average annual cost was almost $20,000 more than the median US household income ($60,336). The annual specialty drug cost was also more than three times the median income for Medicare beneficiaries ($26,200) and over four-and-a-half times higher than the average Social Security retirement benefit ($16,848).

Notably, the average annual cost for one specialty medication used on a chronic basis would have been $29,843 in 2017—almost $50,000 lower—if the retail price changes for these products had been limited to general inflation between 2006 and 2017.

Until recently, relatively few patients have used specialty drugs. However, there are strong indications that a much larger share of the population will use specialty prescription drugs in the future. If recent trends in specialty drug prices and related price increases continue unabated, an increasing number of older Americans will be unable to afford necessary specialty medications. Such developments will lead to poorer health outcomes and higher health care costs in the future.

These AARP Public Policy Institute reports are a continuation of our Rx Watchdog report series that has been tracking price changes for widely used prescription drugs since 2004. 

For more information, please contact the AARP Public Policy Institute at (202) 434-3890.

Suggested Citation:

Purvis, Leigh, and Stephen W. Schondelmeyer. Rx PriceWatch Reports. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute, June 2019

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