When it comes to out-of-control health-care spending, the rising cost of brand-name drugs may need a prescription of its own.
Dozens of brand-name drugs have doubled in price since 2007, while the consumer price index has risen only 12 percent over the same period, according to an analysis for Bloomberg News by health-plan comparison company DRX.
At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are introducing new drugs at astounding prices, such as the new hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi, which comes with an astounding $1,000 per day price tag.
What's driving the surge in prescription medicine costs? A recent consolidation among pharmaceutical companies, as well as drugmakers pushing up prices on new products to offset declines in older medications no longer covered under patents.
The strange economics of the drug industry means that a small slice of the America population is being asked to pay increasingly more for treatment, while most patients have actually seen their costs decline, according to an April report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
Bloomberg cites the example of Earl Harford, an 84-year-old retired professor who is facing costs of more than $7,600 per month for a medication to treat his leukemia. That's three times the price he paid in 2001. Harford has had to spend $140,000 of his retirement savings to pay for the drug.
"People with this condition are being taken advantage of by the pharmaceutical industry," Harford told the publication. "They haven't improved the drug; they haven't done anything but keep manufacturing it. How do they justify it?"
A spokesman for Novartis, which makes the drug that Harford relies on, told Bloomberg that the medicine "remains among the most competitively priced drugs in its class." The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America,, an industry trade group, said that spending growth is "in line" with medical spending.
That might not prove reassuring, given that Americans spend more on health care -- $8,508 per year -- than other industrialized nations. Health-insurance premiums also have jumped by 80 percent over the past decade, according to a 2013 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Meanwhile, wages for most Americans remain stuck in neutral.
Price hikes on "protected brands" added $20 billion in sales for the prescription medication market last year, IMS Health noted. That's a 28 percent jump in sales for those brands from the previous year.
Lawmakers are taking notice of the spiraling costs. In March, Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded that Gilead Sciences, Sovaldi's maker, explain its huge price tag.
"Our concern is that a treatment will not cure patients if they cannot afford it," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Gilead CEO John Martin. "Even in cases where public or private insurers pay for the medication, it will impose substantial costs on taxpayers and could cause premium increases for those with employer or individual coverage."
The price of new drugs, which often are developed to treat chronic and life-threatening conditions such as cystic fibrosis and cancer, are only getting more expensive, as well. Take the cystic fibrosis drug Vertex, which was developed through $75 million in charitable donations. Its cost? $300,00 per year.
Worryingly, drug costs are likely to keep rising. From 2015 through 2022, drug spending is projected to rise 6.5 percent per year, according to a government forecast.