Yesterday, AARP published its latest Rx Price Watch report, which highlights generic prescription medication price changes from 2006-2013. Generic medication is considered the best avenue towards lower taxpayer and consumer drug costs. In the mid-1980s, passage of the Hatch-Waxman Act helped bring lower cost generic medication to the market faster and fueled intense price competition among generic manufacturers. The result was 1) much lower drug prices on medications that have lost their patents (often 90% lower) and 2) an exceedingly high generic penetration rate with generics comprising 85% of all medication use. AARP’s report suggests that generic drug prices continue to decrease, which is good, but at a much slower rate, “indicating that the era of consistent generic drug price decreases may be coming to an end.”
Stay calm. Generics are still usually much lower cost than the brand names and that will continue to be the case. AARP’s report notes that 2013 had the lowest average generic price decrease (4.1%) since 2006. However, AARP’s data also shows considerable fluctuation in this rate, enough to question whether or not we’re really experiencing a new normal in which generic drug prices no longer decline year after year. For example, the decreases in average generic drug prices that occurred in the prior two years, 2011 and 2012, 9.1% and 14.5%, respectively, were the highest since 2006. These numbers, however, most likely reflect what’s referred to as the “patent cliff” – a time when many patents on blockbuster brand name drugs, such as Lipitor and Plavix, lost their patents, thus allowing much lower cost generics to enter the market. As I see it, we don’t really know the future trend of generic drug prices.
Again, most generic drugs are way cheaper than their brand name counterparts and just as safe and effective. The big generic drug problem is that the cost of some generics has spiked outrageously over the past few years, sometimes beyond the reach of the American consumer. Usually when we talk about insane price increases of brand name drugs year over year the percentages are 10, 20, 30 or even 40%. But the increases for some generics have literally been in the 2000% range! One crazy example, reported by the People’s Pharmacy, showed that the cost of the antibiotic doxycycline skyrocketed from six cents ($.06) to $3.30, a 5500% increase.
In fact, directing you back to our research from November 2014, we found that even brand name versions sold in foreign pharmacies can be MUCH lower cost than the generics sold here! Please keep in mind that those same generics mentioned in our analysis may have already come down in price domestically. So before you buy from an international online pharmacy, check your local pharmacy first.