Brand-name drug prices rise sharply while generic drug prices plummet.

Brand-name prescription drug prices are rising faster than the rate of inflation, while the price of generic drugs has plummeted, creating the largest gap so far between the two,according to a report published Wednesday by the pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts.



The report tracked an index of commonly used drugs and found that the price of brand-name medicines increased more than 13 percent from September 2011 to this September, which it said was more than six times the overall price inflation of consumer goods. Generic drug prices dipped by nearly 22 percent.

The drop in the price of generics “represents low-hanging fruit for the country to save money on health care,” said Dr. Steve Miller, the chief medical officer of Express Scripts, which manages the drug benefits for employers and insurers and also runs a mail-order pharmacy.

The report was based on a random sample of six million Express Scripts members with prescription drug coverage.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the trade group representing brand-name manufacturers, criticized the report, saying it was skewed by a handful of high-priced specialty drugs that are used by a small number of patients and overlooked the crucial role of major drug makers.

“Without the development of new medicines by innovator companies, there would be neither the new treatments essential to progress against diseases nor generic copies,” Josephine Martin, executive vice president of the group, said in a statement.

The report cited the growth of specialty drugs, which treat diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis, as a major reason for the increase in spending on branded drugs. Spending on specialty medicines increased nearly 23 percent during the first three quarters of 2012, compared with the same period in 2011. All but one of the new medicines approved in the third quarter of this year were specialty drugs, the report found, and many of them were approved to treat advanced cancers only when other drugs had failed.

Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, a professor of pharmaceutical economics at the University of Minnesota, said the potential benefits of many new drugs did not always match the lofty price tags. “Increasingly it’s going to be difficult for drug-benefit programs to make decisions about coverage and payment and which drugs to include,” said Mr. Schondelmeyer, who conducts a similar price report for AARP. He also helps manage the drug benefit program for the University of Minnesota.

“We’re going to be faced with the issue that any drug at any price will not be sustainable.”

Spending on traditional medicines — which treat common ailments like high cholesterol and blood pressure — actually declined by 0.6 percent during the period, the report found. That decline was mainly because of the patent expiration of several blockbuster drugs, like Lipitor and Plavix, which opened the market for generic competitors. But even as the entry of generic alternatives pushed down spending, drug companies continued to raise prices on their branded products, in part to squeeze as much revenue as possible out of an ever-shrinking portfolio, Dr. Miller said.

Drug makers are also being pushed by companies like Express Scripts and health insurers, which are increasingly looking for ways to cut costs, said C. Anthony Butler, a pharmaceuticals analyst at Barclays. “I think they’re pricing where they can but what they keep telling me is they’re under significant pressure” to keep prices low, he said.

Express Scripts earns higher profits from greater use of generic medicines than brand name drugs sold through their mail-order pharmacy, Mr. Butler said. “There’s no question that they would love for everybody to be on a generic,” he said.

Dr. Miller acknowledged that was true but said that ultimately, everyone wins. “When we save people money, that’s when we make money,” he said. “We don’t shy away from that.”

Via New York Times