WASHINGTON: With US health care reform at a critical stage, non-generic prescription drug prices have risen sharply in the past year even as other consumer prices generally eased.

The American Association of Retired People (AARP) found in a study released on Monday that prices for brand name prescription drug have shot up 9.3 percent since October 2008.

That was considerably greater than the average increase over the past seven years 5.8 to 8.3 percent a year even though the US economy has been in a dive during much of the past year.

Drug prices as a whole, including low cost generics, rose 5.4 percent in the past 12 months.

"This report confirms what most older Americans already know: drug makers are raising their prices and enjoying windfall profits, even as the rest of the economy is suffering," said AARP executive vice president John Rother.

"The pharmaceutical industry should be embarrassed when it sees its own price increases put side-by-side with the general inflation rate," he said.

"Even as the cost of most goods and services drops, a person taking just one brand name drug now pays two hundred dollars more per year than a year ago," he said.

The price jumps have raised suspicions that the pharmaceuticals are acting as a hedge against legislation reforming the US health care system.

"When we have major legislation anticipated, we see a run-up in price increases," Stephen Schondelmeyer, a professor of pharmaceuticals economics at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times.

This month the House of Representatives narrowly passed the most sweeping US health care overhaul in a half-century, sending the debate on to the US Senate.

The 10-year, trillion-dollar plan would extend health coverage to some 36 million uninsured Americans.

If, as expected, the House and Senate pass rival versions of health care legislation, they will need to thrash out a compromise bill and approve it before sending it to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The United States is the only industrialized democracy that does not ensure that all of its citizens have health care coverage.