Analysis uncovers huge spike in prescription drug prices

An investigation into the cost of prescription drugs reveals huge price hikes over the past five years. Several brand name medications more than doubled in price.

The Reuters analysis of the 10 most popular drugs found the increases added billions to the nation's health care spending for common conditions like arthritis, asthma, and abnormal cholesterol.

"We are talking about some pretty intense, sometimes lifesaving medications, things like rheumatoid arthritis, drugs like Humira, Enbrel. For drugs that treat Crohn's disease and psoriasis. I mean, it's pretty serious stuff. The increases are dramatic. Humira went up 126 percent. There are few other consumer products that go up this way," Lisa Gill of Consumer Reports said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."

For some consumers, the spike in prices leaves them with difficult decisions, said Gill.

"They sometimes feel some pocketbook pain coming at the point of when they actually fill the prescription but that pain is very real. When these prices go up, we can see consumers don't fill prescriptions like they should. They don't take them like they should or they do other things. They don't buy groceries, they may not go out to dinner with their families. There are a lot of things they'll cut out in order to try to pay for the medications."

Drug companies can set whatever price they want.

"That is one issue that we've really struggled with. In some cases, the list that Reuters pulled out shows that these medications, some of them, there are alternatives. So Crestor is a good example. Crestor is a medication to lower cholesterol. There are several actually really cheap drugs you can get at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Kmart, Target, just for pennies on the dollar," said Gill.

Nexium, "the purple pill," is another drug that increased, but Gill said you can buy it over the counter.

"These other ones though, there are very few other options and that's what has really cornered Americans in -- not really being able to find better choices," she explained.

Pharma, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the country's leading biopharmaceutical researchers and biotechnology companies, said in a statement: "Focusing solely on the list prices of medicines is misleading because it ignores the significant discounts and rebates negotiated by insurers and pharmacy benefit managers."

Gill said, "Big pharma really hates it when you focus on the wholesaler acquisition cost -- the whack price -- which is what this analysis came from."

The industry average is about 20 percent less than the price you're looking at. But, Gill said, the impact on consumers is real.

"So it still translates to increased prices. It still translates to insurance companies and programs like Medicare and Medicaid, our government programs, paying more money. So they have a good point but it also shows us how little we actually understand about drug prices. That it's completely -- it's a lot of backroom deals and we can't see what's going on."