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Original Investigation
March 3, 2020

Changes in List Prices, Net Prices, and Discounts for Branded Drugs in the US, 2007-2018

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 2Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 3Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 4Insurance Services Division, UPMC Health Plan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 5VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
JAMA. 2020;323(9):854-862. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.1012
Key Points

Question  To what extent have manufacturer discounts offset increases in list prices of branded pharmaceutical products in the US?

Findings  Using 2007-2018 net pricing data on branded pharmaceutical products in the US, list prices increased by 159% and net prices increased by 60%. Discounts increased from 40% in 2007 to 76% in 2018 in Medicaid and increased from 23% to 51% in other payers, offsetting 62% of increases in list prices for drugs.

Meaning  Although discounts partially offset list price increases of branded products from 2007 to 2018, there was still a substantial increase in net prices over this period.


Importance  Most studies that have examined drug prices have focused on list prices, without accounting for manufacturer rebates and other discounts, which have substantially increased in the last decade.

Objective  To describe changes in list prices, net prices, and discounts for branded pharmaceutical products for which US sales are reported by publicly traded companies, and to determine the extent to which list price increases were offset by increases in discounts.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Retrospective descriptive study using 2007-2018 pricing data from the investment firm SSR Health for branded products available before January 2007 with US sales reported by publicly traded companies (n = 602 drugs). Net prices were estimated by compiling company-reported sales for each product and number of units sold in the US.

Exposures  Calendar year.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Outcomes included list and net prices and discounts in Medicaid and other payers. List prices represent manufacturers’ price to wholesalers or direct purchasers but do not account for discounts. Net prices represent revenue per unit of the product after all manufacturer concessions are accounted for (including rebates, coupon cards, and any other discount). Means of outcomes were calculated each year for the overall sample and 6 therapeutic classes, weighting each product by utilization and adjusting for inflation.

Results  From 2007 to 2018, list prices increased by 159% (95% CI, 137%-181%), or 9.1% per year, while net prices increased by 60% (95% CI, 36%-84%), or 4.5% per year, with stable net prices between 2015 and 2018. Discounts increased from 40% to 76% in Medicaid and from 23% to 51% for other payers. Increases in discounts offset 62% of list price increases. There was large variability across classes. Multiple sclerosis treatments (n = 4) had the greatest increases in list (439%) and net (157%) prices. List prices of lipid-lowering agents (n = 11) increased by 278% and net prices by 95%. List prices of tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (n = 3) increased by 166% and net prices by 73%. List prices of insulins (n = 7) increased by 262%, and net prices by 51%. List prices of noninsulin antidiabetic agents (n = 10) increased by 165%, and net prices decreased by 1%. List price increases were lowest (59%) for antineoplastic agents (n = 44), but discounts only offset 41% of list price increases, leading to 35% increase in net prices.

Conclusions and Relevance  In this analysis of branded drugs in the US from 2007 to 2018, mean increases in list and net prices were substantial, although discounts offset an estimated 62% of list price increases with substantial variation across classes.