Generic Medication Prices

Method

1,240 listings of over 400 different generic medications were chosen and the prices of all listings were compared each quarter using data from National Average Drug Acquisition Cost (NADAC) price lists. The NADAC tracks how much retail pharmacies in the US pay for each of the medications they buy. The prices were taken from NADAC lists that were published on the first or second Wednesday of January, April, July and October of each year starting October 4, 2012 (the first NADAC list published) through January 4, 2017.

A medication listing is a specific dose and/or preparation of a medication. Each specific dose of a medication can vary substantially in price from the other doses of the same medication, and in no reliable way. What’s more, capsules and tablets of the same dose of the exact same medication can vary substantially in price as can creams, lotions and ointment preparations of the same medication. Since the pricing of each dose and preparation of a medication can vary by so much, it was important to track the prices of each listing separately.

Not every listing was priced each quarter by the NADAC, since some of the medications on the list are prescribed only rarely. Also, some of the medications became generic after October 2012, so their prices first appeared on subsequent lists. Annual price comparisons were done for any listing that was priced at least twice in a calendar year and the four year price comparison was done by dividing the most recent provided price for each listing by the fist price provided.

Results

Over the course of four years (October 2012-January 2017) a total of 616 of the listings went up in price and 622 of the listings went down in price (the prices of two listings remained exactly the same). Of the medication listings that increased in price, 498 listings went up by 10% or more in price, 292 doubled or more in price and 43 of the generic medication listings increased ten or more times in price.

The largest price increase was for 500 mg tetracycline capsules which cost pharmacies an average of 7.4¢ in October 2012 and $7.57 per capsule in October 2016.

Of the 655 generic medication listings that went down in price over the four year study, 450 listings decreased by 10% or more in price, 190 listings decreased by 30% or more in price and 67 listings decreased by at least 50% in price. The medication that dropped by the largest margin was escitalopram which, for both the 10 and 20 mg doses, dropped by nearly 96% in price over four years.

The overall average inflation for all 1,240 listings was 136.6% over four years or about 22.5% per year.

Annual Price Changes

2013

1,184 of the 1,240 generic listings had NADAC prices provided for at least two of the quarters between January 10, 2013 and January 8, 2014.

Of those 1,184 listings, 573 increased in price and 603 went down in price in 2013. The prices of eight of the listings didn’t change.

Of the generic listings that went up in price in 2013, 312 went up by 10% or more, 114 at least doubled in price and 16 went up by ten or more times in price that year. The largest generic price increase in 2013 was for 100 mg tablets of doxycycline hyclate which cost pharmacies in the US an average of 5.89¢ a pill in January 2013 and $4.37 a pill by April 2013. By January 2014, the price of doxycycline hyclate 100 mg tablets had fallen to $3.35 per pill, but that was still about 57 times its January 2013 price.

Of the generic medication listings that went down in price in 2013, 218 decreased by 10% or more in price, 36 decreased by 30% or more in price and 18 listings decreased by more than 50% in price. All three doses of pioglitazone (15, 30 and 45 mg) dropped in price by more than 92% in 2013.

The average rate of inflation for all generic listings in 2013 was 54.8%

2014

1,213 of the 1,240 generic listings had NADAC prices provided for at least two of the quarters between January 8, 2014 and January 7, 2015.

Of those 1,213 listings, 490 increased in price and 721 went down in price in 2014. The prices of two of the listings didn’t change.

Of the generic listings that went up in price in 2014, 292 generic medication listings went up by 10% or more, 109 at least doubled in price and 14 went up by ten or more times in price that year. The largest generic price increase in 2014 was for 100 mg tablets of amitriptyline which cost pharmacies in the US an average of 4.12¢ a pill in January 2014 and $1.08 a pill by January 2015 which was an increase of over 26 times in price.

Of the generic medication listings that went down in price in 2014, 278 decreased by 10% or more in price, 31 decreased by 30% or more in price and 11 listings decreased by more than 50% in price. All three doses of repaglinide (0.5, 1 and 2 mg) dropped in price by at least 85% in 2014.

The average rate of inflation for all generic listings in 2014 was 37.3%

2015

Inflation of generic medication prices slowed considerably in 2015 as compared to the previous two years.

1,205 of the 1,240 generic listings had NADAC prices provided for at least two of the quarters between January 7, 2015 and January 6, 2016.

Of those 1,205 listings, 489 increased in price and 701 went down in price in 2015. The prices of 15 of the listings didn’t change.

Of the generic listings that went up in price in 2015, 206 generic medication listings went up by 10% or more, 36 at least doubled in price and only two went up by ten or more times in price that year. The largest generic price increase in 2015 was for 40 mg tablets of propranolol which cost pharmacies in the US an average of 3.17¢ a pill in January 2015 and 37.2¢ a pill by January 2016 which was an increase of 11.7 times in price.

Of the generic medication listings that went down in price in 2015, 233 decreased by 10% or more in price, 33 decreased by 30% or more in price and 10 listings decreased by more than 50% in price. All four doses of Valsartan (40, 80, 160 and 320 mg) dropped in price by more than 88% in 2015.

The average rate of inflation for all generic listings in 2015 was only about 8.7%

2016

In 2016, the inflation of generic medication prices have halted completely.

1,162 of the 1,240 generic listings had NADAC prices provided for at least two of the quarters between January 6, 2016 and October 5, 2016.

Of those 1,162 listings, 426 increased in price and 725 went down in price in 2016. The prices of 11 of the listings didn’t change.

Of the generic listings that went up in price in 2016, 156 generic medication listings went up by 10% or more, only 6 at least doubled in price and none of the medications listed went up by ten or more times in price that year. The largest generic price increase in 2016 was for 300 mg tablets of theophylline ER which cost pharmacies in the US an average of 34.9¢ a pill in January 2016 and $2.36 a pill by January 2017 which was an increase of 6.8 times in price.

Of the generic medication listings that went down in price in 2016, 311 decreased by 10% or more in price, 41 decreased by 30% or more in price and five listings decreased by more than 50% in price. Clorazepate 3.375 mg tablets dropped in price by the largest amount so far in 2016 which was about 78%.

The average rate of inflation for all generic listings in 2016 was almost exactly zero percent.

Summary

In 2013 and 2014 there was an extraordinary amount of inflation in the prices of many generic prescription medications. This inflation didn’t apply to all, or even half of the generic listings surveyed but, rather, a select few medications went up in price by so much that it skewed the average prices for all of the medications each year. What’s more, overall price inflation of generic medications slowed considerably in 2015 and appears to have stopped in 2016.


Figure 1: The average rate of inflation for all 1,240 generic listings surveyed wes nearly 55% in 2013, but this rate has fallen considerably each year since. In 2016 generic prices were absolutely flat (on average).

Figure 2: The average amount the prices of all generic listings have gone up each quarter since October 2012 has varied considerably, but the trend is clearly downward.

Figure 3: In 2013 and 2014 more generic medications increased by 10 or more percent in price than decreased this amount. In 2016, this trend had clearly reversed, though.

Figure 4: Fewer generic medications have doubled in price each year since 2013.