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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Drugmakers Are Expanding Programs That Provide Free Drugs for the Unemployed

Recession Means Free Rx Drugs for Some

Drug Prices Continue to Rise

While the programs may be helping those who qualify for assistance, a report released in April suggests that those who don't are paying more than ever for brand-name prescription drugs.

An AARP investigation found that the cost of top-selling, brand-name drugs rose by 8.7% in 2008, while inflation rose by just 3.8%.

The cost of the acid reflux drug Prevacid increased the most, by 30%, followed by a 21% increase for the depression drug Wellbutrin and a 20% increase in the sleep drug Lunesta.

AARP legislative policy director David Certner tells WebMD that brand-name drug prices have been increasing by roughly twice the level of inflation for around a decade, while the cost of generic drugs has declined.

Johnson disputes the claim, charging that AARP cherry-picked the drugs included in its report to make it look like drug costs are rising faster than they are.

The report found that the cost of the generic drugs examined declined by around 10% in 2008.

"The best way to save on drug costs is to choose a generic whenever possible," Certner says.

And more and more people are doing just that. Just over two decades ago, generics made up just 20% of the prescription drug market. Today, the figure is closer to 70%.

Another AARP investigation found that a patient paying for three brand-name prescription drugs could save an average of $500 annually by switching to generics.

AARP is also pushing for changes in the law to allow generic versions of biologic drugs like Humira, which are increasingly used to slow the progression of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Certner says some of the drugs cost as much as $10,000 a month.

"This could dramatically lower the cost of a group of very expensive drugs that are growing in use," he says.

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