Wholesale prices for the 195 brand-name prescription drugs most commonly used by older people in the USA rose at more than twice the rate of inflation during the year that ended March 31, 2005, while the hike for generic drugs was less than 1%.

The 6.6% increase for the branded drugs is a little lower than in previous surveys, according to the Association of American Retired Persons, which carried out the survey, but is still outpacing inflation and suggests that seniors in the USA are still being charged too much for drugs.

“The new prescription benefit in Medicare [[26/11/03a]] was a good first step to providing full coverage for America's older people, but the second step needed is to keep down the price of prescription drugs,” commented AARP president Marie Smith.

The biggest increases were in drugs for diabetes, high blood pressure, and other heart-disease treatments, according to the AARP’s Rx Watchdog Report. 37 of the 195 drugs assessed had price increases of more than 5% and, in seven cases, the hike was more than 7.5%.

These price hikes mean that a typical older American, taking three prescription drugs for chronic conditions, would have seen bills for drug therapy rise by an average of $144 since the end of March 2004.

Among those companies implementing larger price hikes were AstraZeneca, which raised the price for its beta blocker Toprol XL (metoprolol 50mg) by 6%, Bristol-Myers Squibb with a 5.9% increase for its hypolipidemic drug Pravachol (pravastatin 20mg and 40mg), and Pfizer, which implemented a 5% increase across eight products which featured in the top 25 used by seniors.

The AARP’s Director of Policy and Strategy, John Rother, said: “Seventy percent of the population over age 50 is currently having problems paying for prescription drugs. Some of these are wonder drugs, but they can’t realise their potential if people can’t afford

to buy them.”

The AARP also takes issue with the pharmaceutical supply and payment system in the USA, describing it as “a maze that makes assigning accountability for sudden, sharp and seemingly erratic price differences in prescription drugs difficult.”

An earlier Rx Watchdog Report found that the average increase in the prices of drug used by seniors in 2004 was 7.1% [[13/04/05e]].