You may need a thick skin to withstand the rising cost of some dermatology medicines.
A new study finds that prices of some widely prescribed creams and pills for skin conditions rose rapidly between 2009 and 2015. Of the 19 brand-name medicines analyzed, the retail prices of seven more than quadrupled, and the mean price increase was 401 percent.
Prices for some generic drugs also rose considerably. Between 2011 and 2014, there was a mean increase of 279 percent, although prices for a few drugs remained largely unchanged, according to the findings that appeared Wednesday in the journal JAMA Dermatology. The study was based on surveys of national chain pharmacies — Costco, CVS (CVS), Sam’s Club, and Walgreens (WBA) — in and around West Palm Beach, Fla.
The authors did not examine why prices rose. But they noted that many of the drugs have been available for more than 10 years and experienced some of the highest percentage increases in price in the last few years. For instance, the price of Carac cream, which is used to treat red wart-like growths on the face and scalp, rose nearly 1,700 percent to $2,705.30 for a 30-gram tube. Valeant Pharmaceuticals bought the product from Sanofi (SNY) in 2011, when it cost $227.16, according to the survey.
“The prices have skyrocketed with no justification,” said Dr. Steven Rosenberg, a study co-author and a dermatologist who teaches at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “These medications may not cost $100,000, but they are used frequently for chronic problems. So the impact on the health care system may be just as significant as a hepatitis C drug that costs tens of thousands of dollars, but is prescribed just once.”
The study arrives amid an ongoing national debate over the prices for prescription drugs. The issue has galvanized many Americans thanks, in part, to instances in which some drug makers buy medicines and then quickly jack up prices by tremendous amounts. A recent poll found that 91 percent of voters believe it’s important for presidential candidates to hold down rising prescription drug costs.
“This is a manifestation of anarchy pricing, which is what you get when you don’t have a competitive free market or competent government actions to protect patients,” said Alan Sager, a professor of health policy and management at Boston University, who was not involved in the study.
Valeant is a notable example of companies that have quickly boosted prices after acquiring medicines. But the drug maker faces a congressional hearing next month over this tactic and recently indicated it may slow the practice. Five of its dermatology drugs are among those that escalated dramatically in price, according to the survey.
A Valeant spokeswoman in an email noted that the retail price of a drug is “rarely” what a drug maker receives for its sale. Four of the products, including Carac, have generic alternatives. And Valeant provides patient assistance programs for eligible patients who use Carac and two of the other drugs listed — Targretin, a pill used to treat skin problems associated with lymphoma, and Oxsoralen, a topical treatment for psoriasis.
As for which types of dermatology drugs saw the biggest price hikes between 2009 and 2015, topical antineoplastics — which combat tumors — had a median increase of 1,240 percent. Prices for acne meds increased by a mean of 195 percent, and prices for psoriasis treatments experienced a median increase of 180 percent. Anti-infectives had the smallest mean increase, although the figure wasn’t specified.
The authors also pointed out that none of the medicines surveyed appear on the list of drug shortages maintained by the Food and Drug Administration. In recent years, shortages have often been blamed on manufacturing problems that stymied production. However, one brand-name medicine and one generic drug were previously listed, but prices have not returned to their prior price levels.