The surprising reason drug prices are on the rise ( )

A new study shows even older drugs are seeing big hikes.

You are not imagining it: Drug prices really are increasing. New research led by academics at the University of Pittsburgh and published Monday in Health Affairs helps us put some numbers on exactly how much and what kind of drugs are to blame.

Prices for drugs of all types and from all classes (brand-name, specialty, generics/oral or injectable) have been rising faster than inflation over the study period, from 2008 to 2016, according to the researchers’ review of wholesale prices for thousands of drugs.

But the bigger surprise is that brand-name drugs in particular are seeing a counterintuitive trend: Rising prices for brand-name drugs were mostly attributable to existing drugs that were already on the market. Insulin in particular was one notable offender, the study found.

“In the brand-name market, there was inflation of drugs that have been around for a while, that were exactly the same as they were the previous year,” Inmaculada Hernandez, an assistant pharmacy professor at Pitt who led the study, says. “They are the same drugs they used to be. Prices are increasing because the market is bearing it.”

(One acknowledged caveat for their findings: The researchers used wholesale prices for their study, which means they could not account for the rebates and discounts that health plans receive from drug makers. But list prices do set the market, so to speak.)

Health Affairs

To get a little more granular: Prices for specialty drugs (often “biologics” that use living cells to treat conditions) rose the most, followed by brand-name drugs (your classic small-molecule medications), and then generics (the knockoff versions of drugs that have