Drugs to treat cancer, high blood pressure, and seizures experienced large price spikes in 2015, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in added Medicare spending, according to new data released by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The data show which drugs cost taxpayers the most money overall and pinpoint which medications experienced the biggest price increases. For the first time this year, CMS released five years of pricing information on more than 5,000 drugs.

In dumping the data, CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt tweeted, “When taxpayers pay, prices should be public.”


The price of some drugs spiked nearly 500 percent. As would be expected, the largest price hikes came in name-brand drugs. Newly released drugs also drove spending higher. In Medicare Part D, medications used to treat hepatitis C, diabetes, and high blood pressure cost taxpayers more than $14.2 billion in 2015, according to the data. There are approximately 55 million people on Medicare, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest cost drivers by Medicare program.

Medicare Part D (drugs patients administer themselves)

Biggest price increases:

  • Cozaar, high blood pressure, 491 percent increase, to $3.22 per unit, total spending of $6.7 million
  • Epitol, used to prevent seizures, 451 percent increase, $0.52 cents per unit, total spending of $6.6 million
  • Zestril, high blood pressure, 405 percent increase, $7.44 cost per unit, total spending of $4.9 million

Highest total spending:

  • Harvoni, hepatitis C, $7 billion
  • Lantus/Lantus SoloSTAR, insulin injection, $4.3 billion
  • Crestor, lowers cholesterol, $2.8 billion

Highest average cost per unit:

  • Eyelea, treats age-related macular degeneration, $35,457
  • Lucentis, also treats macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, $35,331
  • Gattex, treats short bowel syndrome, $24,311

Medicare Part B (drugs administered by doctors)

Biggest price increases:

  • Mitomycin, chemotherapy drug, 163 percent increase, to $58.07 per unit, total spending of $15.7 million
  • Aminophyllin, injection, bronchodialator used for asthma COPD, 115 percent increase, to $4.97, total spending of $469,000
  • Potassium chloride, injection, treats potassium deficiency, 103 percent price increase, to $0.14 cents per unit, total spending of $87,000

Highest total spending:

  • Aflibercept, injection, age-related macular degeneration, $1.9 billion
  • Rituximab, injection, cancer/rheumatoid arthritis, $1.6 billion
  • Pegfilgrastim, injection, stimulates white blood cell formation in cancer patients, $1.3 billion

Highest average cost per unit:

  • Sipuleucel-t, immunotherapy that treats prostate cancer, $35,205
  • Porfimer sodium, injection, treat tumors in the esophagus, $19,691.17
  • Fluocinolone acetonide, implant to treat vision loss in diabetics, $18,543.62

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    • Paul, no clue about Zestril which has been generic for over a decade if I’m not mistaken– how generic manufacturers can get away with large price increases is a mystery to me unless they are such specialty drugs that they are a sole manufacturer. Antihypertensives are the opposite of specialty drugs.
      Regarding Cozaar, this went off patent about 5 years ago and this is 5 year data. It is a common strategy for a pharma company to take major price hikes in the last year of a patent. Payers know the drug is nearing patent expiration so they wait rather than resist, knowing they will control the costs of a drug in the near term. Trying to restrict a drug– especially when its one used by millions of patients and about to go off patent just doesn’t make financial sense for Payers, and the pharma companies know it.

  • For generic drugs, I give all my patients information about Blink Health – where a quick search shows pricing for Cozaar at $6.27 for a one month supply.

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