updated 9/19/2006 8:20:07 PM ET 2006-09-20T00:20:07

The elderly got a little break on the cost of medicine in the second quarter of the year.

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The prices charged by manufacturers on brand-name drugs most commonly used by the elderly rose 0.5 percent, below the overall inflation rate, the AARP reported Tuesday.

Still, the advocacy group for seniors said it was not ready to celebrate a breakthrough in skyrocketing drug prices. Rather, it said that slowdowns have come to be expected from April through June because price increases usually take effect at the start of the year.

When seniors look back to the first half of the year, they’ll still see that prices for 193 brand-name drugs rose an average of 4.3 percent, roughly double overall inflation. The AARP said such price increases for wholesalers are routinely passed on to consumers, particularly the uninsured.

“Although millions in Medicare are now saving with the help of their Medicare drug plans, those in the coverage gap are paying on their own and know how expensive their medications have become,” said David Sloane, who oversees government relations at the AARP. “In addition, nearly 7 million Americans ages 50-64 have no health insurance, are paying full freight and need relief.”

AARP renewed its call for legislation that would allow consumers to buy medicine from foreign countries such as Canada and nations within the European Union.

A trade group representing drug manufacturers said the AARP poll is skewed to achieve findings it favors. The group said that price changes for prescription drugs should be compared to medical care inflation, which the government measured as 4.3 percent last year and 4.2 percent in 2004.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the AARP’s solution to rising prices was dangerous.

“With importation, there could be a huge surge of counterfeit drugs into the United States and the losers would be the many patients taking fake or substandard products,” he said.

The brand-name drug with the highest price increase so far this year was Ambien. A 5 milligram dosage went up 13.3 percent. “If you’re interested in a good night’s sleep, it’s going to cost you more,” said the AARP’s Dalmer Hoskins.

The next largest increases occurred with Combivent and Atrovent Inhaler. Both medicines increased 12 percent so far this year. Combivent is used for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a debilitating lung disease. Atrovent Inhaler makes it easier for people with asthma or COPD to breathe.

The AARP also reported that the news for generic medicine continues to be good for consumers. There was no price increases for the 75 generic drugs most widely used by seniors.

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