More than 500 drugs saw price hikes in the first quarter, study shows

Woman paying for a prescription at a pharmacy
A new study looks at drug price hikes at the beginning of this year. (Getty/Tom Merton)

More than 500 drugs saw price hikes at the beginning of 2019, including price increases of nearly 3% prices for generics, according to a new report. 

Researchers at GoodRx, an app and website that tracks drug pricing and offers coupons, found a 2.9% price hike across brand-name and generic drugs in the first quarter of 2019. Most of that was reported in the first week of January, when drugmakers often raise their prices, according to the report

Tori Marsh, one of the researchers involved in the analysis, told FierceHealthcare that the sheer volume of drugs that saw price increases in January is notable, however. 

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“It’s a yearly thing they do, but this year was pretty substantial amount,” Marsh said. “Over 500—that's crazy to see.” 

RELATED: 5 drugs in development Optum says payers, employers should be watching 

The data come as prescription drug pricing is one of the biggest healthcare issues in politics at present, with both state and federal officials laser-focused on the issue. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has flagged lower drug prices as a key issue for the agency under his watch. 

Drug prices are a major concern for insurers—who are in the political crosshairs—and patients as well as they struggle with affordability

The GoodRx data also dive into the costliest drugs across the country and compare prices and spending between metropolitan areas. The 20 most-expensive drugs are all over $25,000 for a monthly supply, according to the study, with Horizon Pharma’s Actimmune, an immunosuppressive drug, costing more than $52,000 per month. 

Large cities are where drug prices are often highest, GoodRx’s team found. Drugs cost nearly 17% more than the national average in New York City, 14% more in San Francisco and about 10% more in Los Angeles. 

RELATED: Express Scripts launches program to cap members’ out-of-pocket insulin spending 

Meanwhile, prices were lowest in Atlanta and Houston, where they were about 20% below the national average, according to the study. 

Marsh said there are several factors that can be at play in these cities. For one, the costliest cities for drugs are also those with the highest cost of living, which makes other goods, such as medications, more expensive in tandem. 

In addition, people don’t necessarily feel comfortable shopping around to save on drugs, she said. Cities often also have greater numbers of high-cost pharmacies and fewer low-cost alternatives available. 

“It boils down to the pharmacies that are in each of these cities,” Marsh said. “It seems unnatural to shop around for drugs, it’s not something you do like you would for a lot of other consumer products.” 

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