Drug makers raised wholesale prices of the top 200 brand-name drugs three times the rate of inflation during the first three months of the year, AARP criticized in a study released Wednesday.

The top drugs used by seniors rose in price an average of 3.4% while inflation in general was just 1.2%, according to the study, which examined prices just before and just after the Bush administration’s new pharmacy discount care program began. The drug cards were promoted as a tool to bring Medicare beneficiaries savings of 11% to 18%. Instead, AARP feels, drug companies are negating those savings by simply raising prices.

“It’s disappointing that prices jumped after the legislation was signed, after they had assurances that they’d have a broader market to sell to,” AARP policy director John Rother said. AARP backed the Medicare reform law, despite dissension within its ranks.

Some key drugs that rose more than average included Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Plavix, a blood thinner that rose 7.9%; Merck’s Fosamax, for osteoporosis (4.9%); and Pfizer’s pain reliever Celebrex (5%) and cholesterol-reducer Lipitor  (4.6%).

Administration officials and drug makers defended pricing offered to seniors.