Rising Cost of Medications for Seniors

Rising Cost of Medications for Seniors

2019 saw the 4th straight year of double-digit increases in medications for seniors, according to the annual AARP Public Policy Institute report. Nearly 300 brand name drugs increased almost 130 times faster than general inflation in the years studied by the AARP report.

Outrage from citizens, politicians and patients over soaring drug prices has done little if anything to slow their climb, with the retail price tag for brand name drugs widely used by older Americans jumping by an average of 15.5 percent in the most recent year studied — the fourth straight year with a double-digit increase.

This rate of increase is simply not sustainable and will ‘price-out’ many seniors from being able to afford the medication they need that is prescribed by their physicians. The average annual cost for one brand name drug used to treat a chronic health condition topped $5,800 last year, compared with less than $1,800 a decade prior when AARP began the study.

No other commodity has seen double-digit rises each year – drug prices far outstrip the rate of inflation.

Not a recent issue either, notable drug price increases over the past decade include (per the AARP report):

“Ativan 1 mg tablets, an anti-anxiety drug, with price hikes of up to 2,873 percent between 2006 and 2015, and the antidepressant Wellbutrin XL 300 mg tablets, which increased by 1,185 percent. The retail price of Humulin U-500, a short-acting insulin product used to treat diabetes, rose by 538 percent over the past 10 years, most of that in the past five years.”

Other findings in the AARP report:

  • For a consumer who takes 4.5 brand name prescription drugs on a chronic basis, the annual cost of treatment would have been more than $26,000 in 2015, more than three times the cost seen in 2005. This cost exceeds the median income of $24,150 for Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Retail prices increased for 97 percent of the 268 brand name prescription drugs tracked by AARP.
  • Ninety percent of brand name drug product prices more than doubled between 2006 and 2015.
  • Seven widely used brand name drugs had average annual retail price increases of more than 50 percent in the time period studied.


While little can be done to fight the cost of medication costs, it is worth discussion any financial burden with your physician to see if there are generic replacements, manufacturer rebates or group discount programs such as GoodRx. Most physicians and pharmacists are eager to assist in finding discounts to help make medications more affordable for all patients – especially seniors.