Retail Prices of Dermatologic Medications Rising Steeply

December 22, 2015
Bill Schu

A study has identified an across-the-board increase in the retail prices of dermatologic medications. The findings are consistent with other recent studies of pharmacologics in other specialties, but other trends in health care and circumstances unique to dermatologic conditions make the problem more significant.

A study in JAMA Dermatology has identified an across-the-board increase in the retail prices of dermatologic medications. The findings are consistent with other recent studies of pharmacologics in other specialties, but other trends in health care and circumstances unique to dermatologic conditions make the problem more significant.

To wit: Owing to increases in pharmaceutical prices across the board, prescription drug formularies are becoming increasingly restrictive. Thus, many of the medications prescribed for dermatologic conditions are not covered by many prescription benefit plans. Others are covered only by high-deductible health insurance plans, meaning that many patients are forced to pay high prices for their medications.

For the current study, the researchers surveyed four national chain pharmacies requesting price data on commonly prescribed dermatologic drugs in 2009, 2011, 2014, and 2015. The initial survey requested information on 72 brand-name drugs. Subsequent surveys added 120 additional brand-name drugs--and their generic alternatives, when available. From that pool of medications, the researchers selected 19 brand-name drugs that were frequently prescribed in all 4 years and conducted a price analysis.

They found that prices of surveyed brand-name drugs increased rapidly between 2009 and 2015. Of the 19 brand-name drugs analyzed, the retail prices of 7 drugs more than quadrupled during the study period. “Among the 19 drugs, the mean price increase was 401% during the 6-year survey period, with the majority of the price increases occurring after 2011,” the researchers noted. In some categories, the price increases were astronomical. For topical antineoplastic drugs, for example, the mean absolute increase was almost $11,000, a startling 1240% increase. Prices of drugs in the anti-infective class had the smallest mean absolute increase ($333.99); prices of psoriasis medications had the smallest mean percentage increase (180%). Prices of acne and rosacea medications increased a mean of 195%, and prices of topical corticosteroids increased a mean of 290% during the study period.

The problem isn’t confined to brand-name medications. Selected generic drugs surveyed in 2011 and 2014 also increased a mean of 279% over the 3-year period.

Percent increases for multiple, frequently prescribed medications greatly outpaced inflation, national health expenditure growth, and increases in reimbursements for physician services,” the study authors observed.