Assisted living’s struggle with drug prices

Seniors are paying a much higher price to stay healthy and are disproportionately impacted by skyrocketing prescription drug costs, according to a new report from the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Among the biggest cost increases are medications designed as “maintenance drugs” used to manage common chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, COPD, arthritis and acid reflux.

As assisted living residents experience increasing challenges in affording their medications, clinicians could see a surge in medication non-compliance. The impact of that could reverberate much further down the cost-road, especially for continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), where higher levels of care are part of the resident's contract. “If recent trends in brand name drug price increases continue unabated, the cost of drugs will prompt increasing numbers of older Americans to stop taking necessary medications,” the report warns. “This will lead to poorer health outcomes and higher healthcare costs in the future.”

The AARP report, which focuses on pricing changes for the most widely used brand name drugs used by seniors over the past 10 years, found retail prices for some drugs have risen by thousands of dollars since 2006. One drug—Valcyte, an antiviral—now costs $18,000 per year more than it did a decade ago.

The trend has bitten much deeper into seniors' pockets since 2015. Nearly all the common maintenance drugs studied by AARP saw significant price spikes in 2015—most prices increased by more than 5 percent, far above the U.S. inflation rate. Of the 268 drugs analyzed in the report, nearly all have risen in price since 2015—only three drugs actually got cheaper.

The management of kidney disease packs a two-punch for residents’ wallets: Sensipar and Renagel, both used in kidney disease management, are two of the drugs whose price increases are among the highest.

Sound depressing? Antidepressants are another category of drugs that has soared in cost since 2006. Wellbutrin XL now costs $18,000 more per year than it did 10 years ago. And it that isn't enough to make someone anxious, the number 1 drug therapy category for price increases is antianxiety medications, the report found.

Got Part D? Those costs will be affected, too. “The Medicare Trustees recently noted that price increases for brand name drugs are a major factor driving Medicare Part D spending growth,” the AARP report noted. “Higher government spending driven by large drug price increases will affect all Americans in the form of higher taxes, cuts to public programs, or both.”

Related article:
CMS releases more cost data for Part D drugs


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