Four drugs that treat serious and potentially life-threatening conditions each retail for more than $1,000 per day, a new study from AARP finds.
The medications — used for illnesses such as cancer, hepatitis C, short bowel syndrome and myasthenia gravis — top the list of expensive specialty prescriptions in the latest AARP Rx Price Watch Report.
Soliris has the dubious honor of grabbing the top spot, at $1,384 per day. The monoclonal antibody drug is used to treat several illnesses, including the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis, and is often given as an injection either weekly or biweekly.
Gattex — a drug used to treat short bowel syndrome — is a close runner-up, at $1,361 a day.
The top 10 specialty drugs on the AARP list — and their daily costs — are:
- Soliris (myasthenia gravis and other ailments): $1,384
- Gattex (short bowel syndrome): $1,361
- Harvoni (hepatitis C): $1,114
- Iclusig (cancer): $1,090
- Uptravi (pulmonary hypertension): $986
- Cerdelga (Gaucher’s disease): $973
- Epclusa (hepatitis C): $900
- Vosevi (hepatitis C): $876
- Kalydeco (cystic fibrosis): $849
- Symdeko (cystic fibrosis) $803
AARP notes that in 2020, retail prices for 180 widely used specialty prescription drugs increased an average of 4.8%, significantly higher than the general U.S. inflation rate last year of 1.3%.
Specialty drugs are used to treat more complex, ongoing conditions and are among the costliest medicines on the market. Overall, the average annual cost for one specialty medication used to treat a chronic condition was $84,442 in 2020.
For perspective, that amount is nearly three times the $29,650 median income received by Medicare beneficiaries, who are primarily age 65 and older.
The report warns that the rising cost of specialty drugs is reaching a tipping point:
“If recent specialty drug price trends continue unabated, an increasing number of vulnerable 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.”
AARP says its findings are being released as the organization uses its Fair Rx Prices Now campaign to persuade Congress to lower drug prices.
As part of the campaign, AARP wants to see Medicare granted the right to negotiate prices with drug manufacturers. AARP also is calling for a cap on beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D plans.
Finally, AARP would like to see penalties for manufacturers that raise drug prices by more than the inflation rate. The organization notes that if retail prices did not exceed the general inflation rate, the average annual cost of specialty drugs in the latest survey would be cut by more than half, to just under $40,000 annually.
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