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Retail Drug Prices Increase More Than 50 Times Faster Than Inflation

Retail prices for 768 prescription drugs commonly used by older adults increased by an average of 6.4 percent in 2015, outpacing the general inflation rate of 0.1 percent. This is at least the 12th straight year of substantial retail price increases for prescription drugs, according to the latest in a series of AARP Public Policy Institute reports that began tracking drug prices in 2004. 

The new “Rx Price Watch Report: Trends in Retail Prices of Prescription Drugs Widely Used by Older Americans, 2006-2015” looks at retail prices of a combined set of 268 brand name, 399 generic, and 101 specialty drugs widely used by older Americans, including Medicare beneficiaries, over ten years.   

In 2015, the average annual cost of therapy for just one prescription drug was almost $13,000 for older adults. This cost was:

    Equal to 80 percent of the average Social Security retirement benefit of $16,101

    More than 50 percent of Medicare beneficiaries’ median income of $25,150

    Almost 25 percent of the median household income of $55,775.  

“Year after year, drug price increases far outpace price increases for the other kinds of goods and services that consumers use every day,” said AARP Chief Public Policy Officer Debra Whitman. “These increases are simply unsustainable for everyone, including patients, employers, insurers, and taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid.”

Report Highlights

Based on the retail prices of 768 brand name, generic, and specialty drugs:

  The average annual cost for one widely used prescription drug in 2015 ($12,951) was more than three times the average annual cost for a widely used prescription drug in 2006 ($4,202), the year Medicare implemented Part D.  

  In 2015, the average annual cost of therapy for widely used specialty drugs was $52,486 compared with an average annual cost of $5,807 for widely used brand name drugs and $523 for widely used generic drugs. 

“Given these trends in prescription drug price increases, we’re going to continue seeing more and more older Americans, especially those on fixed incomes, who’ll be unable to afford their prescription drugs,” said Leigh Purvis, director of health services research, AARP Public Policy Institute, and co-author of the report.  

The full report can be found at

This article was adapted from information provided by AARP.