A report issued by AARP, the US advocacy group for the over-50s, which claims that the price of prescription drugs in the USA is rising at a high rate, has been condemned as “one-sided” by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The AARP’s Rx Watchdog Report claims that manufacturer prices for widely-used brand name prescription drugs jumped by nearly 9% in 2008, “marking the largest average annual increase in six years and far exceeding the general inflation rate of just 3.8%”. The group’s public policy director John Rother said that a person taking three brand-name drugs “could see his or her annual costs climb by more than $550 in just one year”.

In contrast, the study found that the manufacturer prices of widely-used generic drugs fell by 10.6% and the vast majority (83%) did not change in price in 2008. It claims that Pfizer’s price for the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline) increased 12.3% last year, while the manufacturer price for Teva’s generic version decreased 45.1%.

AARP’s report also noted that the prices of specialty drugs for cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis which have no generic version rose 9.3%. Mr Rother said that these treatments are already expensive because of their development costs, “so it doesn’t help that many are biologic drugs that don’t face generic competition. That’s why we need health reform now”.

However, PhRMA senior vice president Ken Johnson was unimpressed by the findings and said “not surprisingly, AARP’s one-sided report fails to acknowledge the sharp recent deceleration in prescription drug spending”. He quoted IMS Health figures which show that prescription drug costs in 2008 grew by 1.3%, the lowest rate of growth in 47 years. “Unfortunately, AARP distorts the true, overall picture in hopes of dramatising its report and deflecting attention from the millions of dollars it earns each year from its insurance businesses,” Mr Johnson added.

He went on to say that while AARP focuses on selected brand medicines, the US government’s “consumer price index is the best measure of the prices consumers pay for medicines”. It shows that since the beginning of this decade prescription drug prices grew at an average 3.6%, and from 2007 to 2008, that rise was 2.5%.

Mr Johnson said that “in our healthcare system, powerful purchasers negotiate prescription medicine prices in a competitive market". This system is designed both to encourage high use of generic drugs, which according to IMS represented 72% of all filled prescriptions in 2008, “and to promote on-going innovation and development of new treatments”.

He concluded by saying that “now is the time to focus on achieving affordable, quality healthcare coverage for all Americans, rather than reports that distort reality”.