Pharmaceutical firms have “substantially raised” prices on the 144 specialty drugs most commonly used by people as part of the US Medicare prescription drug programme known as Part D.

This is the claim from a report issued by AARP, the US advocacy group for the over-50s. The study says that the prices of specialty drugs, many of which are biotech products, can range from $5,000 to more than $300,000 per year and the ones most commonly used by Medicare Part D beneficiaries have risen faster than the general inflation rate every year since 2004.

This peaked in 2007 when the price leapt 8.7% – or three times the general rate of inflation (2.9%). John Rother, AARP’s executive vice president of policy and strategy, said that “the skyrocketing cost of specialty drugs is especially tragic for those suffering from diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis”. He added that these treatments “can provide comfort and hope” but “even the most miraculous drug is useless if a person can’t afford to take it”.

Mr Rother concluded by saying that “specialty drugmakers continue to raise the costs of drugs that have already been developed and tested”. By doing so, “they’re increasing the burden on people with chronic conditions who can least afford it, as well as employer-sponsored health plans and even the American taxpayer through increased Medicare spending. If they have a good reason, we’d like to hear it”.

The AARP’s claims provoked a quick response from the USA’s Biotechnology Industry Organization. The latter says the study “ignores the many factors that counter and mitigate the price trends mentioned in this analysis” and does not take into account “the discounts, rebates and other negotiated prices that evidence suggests are passed on to Medicare beneficiaries” in the form of lower premiums and copayments.

BIO also notes that the AARP survey is based on the wholesale acquisition cost of these drugs, “which does not reflect negotiated discounts and rebates between manufacturers and Part D plan sponsors”. Also, “the majority of manufacturers – particularly those with specialty products – provide funding for programs that assist patients with accessing needed therapies”.