Drugs — The Price of Popping Pills

The cost of drugs and the amount of drugs we take continue to increase each year. Consider these facts:

  • Iowans filled an average of 14.9 prescriptions per year and South Dakotans filled an average of 12.3 in 2010; the national average is 12 prescriptions per year1
  • The average number of retail prescriptions filled per person in the United States increased from 10.1 in 1999 to 12 in 20102
  • Prescription drug spending is expected to almost double by 2019, $234.1 billion in 2008 to $457.8 billion in 20192
  • The price for 100 commonly used brand and generic drugs increased by an average annual rate of 6.6 percent from 2006 through the first quarter of 2010; this is nearly double the 3.8 percent average annual increase in the consumer price index for medical goods and services3
  • Prices for the 55 common brand name drugs increased by an annual average of 8.3 percent4
  • Prices for the 45 common generics dropped by 2.6 percent annually3
  • In 2010, the average copayment for a generic drug was $6.06 per prescription compared to $23.65 and $34.77 for preferred and non-preferred brand name drugs4
  • Here's how much some popular drugs are going up in price:

    Drug Name What It Treats Price Increase3 Cost Per 30 Day Prescription3









    Adderall XR









    High Cholesterol



What Wellmark Is Doing 

  • Promoting greater use of generics by working with physicians to encourage prescribing generic drugs over brand-name drugs
  • Lowering pharmacy costs by recently negotiating a better contract with its pharmacy benefits manager to further lower pharmacy costs
  • Putting processes in place to determine the cost and effectiveness of new drugs compared to current drugs that treat the same condition
  • Promoting the safe and effective use of prescription drugs to help prevent side effects

What You Can Do 

  • Take generic drugs whenever possible; learn more about generic drugs 
  • If you need to take a drug, ask your doctor or pharmacist if a generic is right for you; see how much you could save by taking a generic over a brand name drug 
  • Say "no" to samples — especially when the sample is for a brand-name drug you'll be taking for several months; see how "free" samples could cost you more in the long run
  • Ask your doctor if there are other things you can do than take a pill such as lose weight, exercise, or make changes in your diet (for example, less salt if your blood pressure is high)
  • Don't pressure your doctor for a new drug you heard advertised on TV or in a magazine
  • Use the Wellmark Drug List to find out if there are generic options
  • Get unbiased information from Consumer Reports AdWatch , which calls out potentially misleading information in TV ads about specific prescription drugs

1Kaiser Family Foundation State Health Facts. http://www.statehealthfacts.org, accessed October 2011

2 Kaiser Family Foundation Prescription Drug Trends, May 2010

3 U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Prescription Drugs: Trends in Usual and Customary Prices for Commonly Used Drugs", February 2011

4 IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics study "The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2010"

5 Price increase and cost per 30 day prescription is based on the average cost per 30-day prescription, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 10/1/2010 to 10/31/2011

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Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield is an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association doing business in Iowa and South Dakota.
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