Jun 25, 2019
Specialty Drug Prices Continue 12-Year Surge
New AARP report shows the average annual price for widely used specialty drugs reached nearly $79,000 in 2017

En español | WASHINGTON—The prices of widely used specialty prescription drugs grew more than three times faster than general inflation in 2017, according to a new AARP Public Policy Institute report released today. The new report found that the average annual price for a single specialty drug used on a chronic basis is now nearly $79,000, compared to $27,824 in 2006.

Specialty drugs often require special administration and handling and are used to treat conditions that often affect older populations, including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

The AARP report found that the average annual cost for a single specialty drug was:

  • Almost $20,000 more than the median U.S. household income ($60,336)
  • More than three times the median income for Medicare beneficiaries ($26,200)
  • Over four-and-a-half times higher than the average Social Security retirement benefit ($16,848)

The report also found that the average annual price for one specialty medication would have been $29,843 in 2017—almost $50,000 lower—if the retail price changes for these products had been limited to general inflation between 2006 and 2017.

“Prescription drugs are not affordable when their prices exceed the patient’s entire income,” said Debra Whitman, Executive Vice President and Chief Public Policy Officer at AARP. “Unfortunately, drug prices seem to be in a never-ending race to the top, leaving more and more people unable to afford the medications they need.”

Report highlights:

  • Retail prices for 97 commonly used specialty drugs increased by 7.0 percent, compared to the general inflation rate of just 2.1 percent.
  • Specialty medications were more than 215 times more expensive than widely used generic drugs ($78,781 vs. $365), and almost 12 times more than widely used brand name drugs ($78,781 vs. $6,798).
  • Revlimid, used to treat cancer, had the highest annual price surge of the 30 top selling specialty drugs at 21.4 percent, going from $203,928 in 2016 to $247,497 in 2017.
  • Revatio, a pulmonary hypertension medication, had the single highest retail price increase (48 percent) among the 97 most widely used specialty drugs.

“Specialty drugs account for the majority of the prescription drugs that were approved by the FDA in recent years,” said Leigh Purvis, Director of Research at AARP Public Policy Institute. “Given the remarkably high prices associated with such products, it is imperative that policymakers finally enact meaningful changes that target drug manufacturers’ pricing behavior.”

To view “Trends in Retail Prices of Specialty Prescription Drugs Widely Used by Older Americans,” visit www.aarp.org/rxpricewatch.

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About AARP
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation's largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org or follow @AARP and @AARPadvocates on social media.

Media Contact: Greg Phillips, 202-434-2560, gphillips@aarp.org, @AARPmedia