- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Drug makers raised prescription prices by nearly triple the rate of inflation in the first three months of this year — just before Medicare began its pharmacy discount card program — negating much of the savings promised to seniors, according to an AARP survey released yesterday.

Prices rose by 3.4 percent among the top-200 brand-name drugs, while inflation in general was 1.2 percent in the first quarter of 2004, the study said. It tracked the prices pharmaceutical companies charge drug wholesalers.

Most of the top-10 selling drugs increased more than the average, led by Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Plavix. The price of the blood thinner increased by 7.9 percent, the 35 million-member AARP said.

Merck and Co. raised the price of Fosamax for osteoporosis by 4.9 percent, while the most popular forms of Celebrex, a pain reliever, and cholesterol-reducing Lipitor — both made by Pfizer — increased by 5 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively.

“Manufacturers are offsetting discounts with prices that are higher than they otherwise would have been,” John Rother, AARP’s policy director, said at a press conference.

The Medicare card program began last month, although companies started advertising their prices in late April. The Bush administration says the average savings on brand-name drugs is 11 percent to 18 percent for discount card holders.

Mark McClellan, the administration’s Medicare chief, said in an interview that people who use the cards are seeing significant savings.

“None of our beneficiaries should be paying anything close to list prices for drugs and more help is available than ever before,” Mr. McClellan said.

The lowest prices available with a discount card have been essentially unchanged for Celebrex, Fosamax and Lipitor — three best-selling drugs that the Associated Press has tracked since the drug program began. All can be bought at about the same prices through the online pharmacy Drugstore.com and for much less in Canada.

AARP gave crucial backing to the new Medicare law, but has been a vocal critic of pharmaceutical manufacturers and their congressional allies who have resisted legalizing imports of prescription medicines from Canada and elsewhere.

The seniors group also has urged drug makers to limit price increases to the rate of inflation, to no avail.

Mr. Rother singled out Bristol-Myers and Pfizer, which between them produce 12 of the 25 top-selling drugs. Bristol Myers-Squibb prices rose 7.2 percent, while Pfizer increased its prices 4.8 percent in the first three months of 2004, AARP said.

Pfizer spokeswoman Laura Glick acknowledged the prices went up, but said those are annual increases that typically occur in January.

“And that doesn’t include mandatory government discounts and other negotiated discounts,” Miss Glick said. “We are committed to responsible pricing.”

Bristol-Myers executives did not immediately return telephone calls yesterday.

Despite the increase for Fosamax, Merck & Co. showed average price increases of 1.6 percent. It has acknowledged raising the price of the painkiller Vioxx by 4.8 percent in March. AARP showed no increase in the price of Vioxx, but said the higher price shows up in its April data.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide