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Dermatology Drug Prices Soar in U.S.

Increases have averaged 400% since 2009

The price of drugs prescribed by U.S. dermatologists has skyrocketed over the past 6 years, far exceeding increases in overall health care costs and stretching patients’ budgets in an era of high insurance deductibles, according to a new study from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Of the 19 drugs analyzed, price increases between 2009 and 2015 ranged from approximately 60% to as high as 1,698%, with an average increase of more than 400%.

“It was shocking to us when we saw some of the prices,” said senior author Dr. Steven Rosenberg. “We double-checked with the pharmacies to make sure they were accurate.”

Drug prices recently became a topic of national debate after Turing Pharmaceuticals increased the price of an older antimicrobial medication by more than 5,000%. The company subsequently announced that it would reduce the cost of the drug for hospitals.

In their article, published in JAMA Dermatology, the authors reported that Americans are increasingly forced to pay out-of-pocket for drugs as insurance programs cut back on the number of medications they cover and impose high deductibles. In 2014, approximately 20% of Americans reported not filling at least one prescription because of cost.

To assess trends in dermatology drug prices, the researchers asked pharmacies at Costco, CVS, Sam’s Club, and Walgreens in the West Palm Beach area about the retail prices of certain brand-name drugs in 2009. The survey was repeated in 2011, 2014, and 2015.

While the researchers collected data on approximateky 100 drugs, they narrowed their analysis to 19 for which they had information spanning all four surveys.

The drugs fit into five categories, including treatments for skin cancer, skin infections, acne, rosacea, psoriasis, itching, and eczema. The prices of seven drugs more than quadrupled during the study period, the researchers found. Most of the price increases occurred after 2011.

Medications used to stop the growth of cancer cells increased by approximately $11,000 per year or 1,240%, which was the biggest rise for a single class of drugs. The smallest price jump occurred among drugs that treat infections. This group increased by about $334 per year, or 180%.

While private insurance companies can negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, Rosenberg said, the U.S. government has no control over drug prices, even though it oversees the nation’s two public insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid.

“What’s going on with prescription drug pricing is going to bankrupt health care,” Rosenberg remarked. “It’s not sustainable.”

Source: Reuters, November 25, 2015

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