Another year, another round of inscrutable price increases for many prescription drugs. Over 700 medicines are seeing their list prices shoot up this January, according to an analysis by the organization 46brooklyn Research. The average price increase is slightly below the trend of recent years, but includes popular drugs used for weight loss like Ozempic and Mounjaro.
The Ohio-based 46brooklyn is a nonprofit corporation that describes its purpose as seeking “to improve the accessibility and usability of U.S. drug pricing data.” The organization maintains a database of changes in prescription list prices via its Brand Drug List Price Change Box Score, which is sourced from other pieces of data, such as Medicaid spending. The Box Score is updated weekly in January, then monthly for the rest of the year. Historically, the largest batches of increases happen in January or July, and usually more during the former.
According to 46brooklyn, as of early January, more than 700 brand name drugs have seen list price increases so far. The average increase across these drugs is about 4.5%—a bit below the average 5% jump seen during the past five years. Perhaps the most notable inclusions so far this year involve Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro, the latest in a class of drugs called incretins, named after the group of hormones that they mimic.
Both drugs are approved to help manage type 2 diabetes. But other versions using the same active ingredient have since been approved to treat obesity (Wegovy and Zepbound), and doctors will sometimes prescribe these drugs off-label for the same purpose. The list price for a month’s supply of Ozempic has increased to $984.29 (up 3.5%), according to the database, and to around $1,000 for a month’s supply for Mounjaro (up 4.5%).
The group notes that drug pricing is a complicated mess. List prices rarely represent the actual out-of-pocket cost that patients pay for a drug, which greatly depends on factors like insurance coverage. Pharmacies and public payers like the federal government also tend to pay less for these drugs than listed, thanks to complex discounts and other cost-cutting measures (often, these will be arranged by third-party pharmacy benefit managers). But high list prices can still strain the resources of public payers like Medicare, and some research has shown that ever-increasing list prices do seem to translate to higher out-of-pocket costs for patients over time.
Other drugs that have seen an increase in 2024 include the painkiller Oxycontin, the blood thinner Plavix, and the antidepressant Wellbutrin. A much smaller list of drugs has seen a price drop, including the brand name erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, the antidepressant Prozac, and several popular insulin products. The drop in insulin prices is largely the result of policies passed by the federal government in recent years meant to cap the out-of-pocket cost of insulin to $35 a month. While these policies affect Medicare patients the most, other changes have made it possible for many drug companies to actually save money overall by lowering list prices.