Ask any American about the price of prescription medications, and many will either have a story about their own rapidly rising drug costs or those suffered by friends and family members.
About eight out 10 Americans say prescription drug costs are unreasonable, up from roughly seven out of 10 a year ago, according to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. On top of that, consumers also support measures to keep costs down, ranging from allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices to placing caps on annual price hikes.
Medicare, the government program that provides health care coverage to seniors, isn't allowed by law to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. With about 38 million people in its Part D prescription coverage, Medicare covered a massive $121.4 billion worth of drugs in 2014, the latest year for which data is available. Out of the program's costliest drugs in 2014 -- those that each totaled more than $1 billion in spending -- seven had one-year price hikes of 17 percent or higher.
While that pales in comparison with the fivefold price surge for Mylan's EpiPen, it nevertheless may create hardships for some seniors, especially those living on fixed incomes and those who fall into the so-called "donut hole" of coverage. Taxpayers also end up footing the bill for the higher costs.
Drugmakers typically justify the higher prices by noting the need to fund research and development of new medications.
"Something has to give with drug pricing," said Philip Moeller, the author of "Get What's Yours for Medicare," a new book published by Simon & Schuster (which is owned by CBS, the parent company of CBS MoneyWatch). "I'm not saying the only way to solve this is to give Medicare the right to negate drug prices, but it's fundamentally unfair for U.S. consumers to pay virtually all the global share of R&D in our drug prices."
Medicare shelled out at least $1 billion each on 18 drugs in 2014. Gilead's (GILD) hepatitis C medication Sovaldi, was the most expensive, at a total cost of $3.1 billion. But it was one of two medications among those top 20 drugs to witness a lower per-prescription price (with the other one being the depression drug Duloxetine).
Read on to learn about the seven biggest price increases among the 20 costliest drugs for Medicare. Together, these drug price hikes added almost $2 billion in costs for Medicare.