Spending on prescription drugs rose by 5.2 percent in 2015 and is projected to continue to climb, much faster than overall health spending, in the coming years.
The increase is largely attributed to the high cost of specialty medications used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. And greater medication use overall due to millions of Americans gaining access to insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act also contributed to the surge in spending.
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As it stands though the rise of powerful, expensive prescription drugs has become the greatest drain on American pocketbooks. Spending on specialty medications rose 18 percent last year, while spending on standard drugs rose less than one percent, according to a report by the largest prescription benefit manager in the U.S., Express Scripts Holding Co.
The report also found the average price of brand-name drugs on the market increased by 16.2 percent in 2015 and has jumped 98.2 percent since 2011. One-third of brand-name prescription drugs had price increases exceeding 20 percent last year.
Still, this year’s increase is half the rate in 2014, which spiked to 12.6 percent, the largest price jump since 2003.
What was different in 2015 is that the overall boost in costs was moderated by more restrictions from pharmacy benefit managers and insurers. These companies exerted more control over the drugs their costumers could get access to, as they were more willing to refuse coverage of expensive medications than in the past.
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This trend will likely continue as drug prices continue to rise in the coming years, forcing many customers to become more flexible with accepting generic drugs over their name-brand counterparts.
Cumulatively from 2013 to 2018, prescription drug spending is expected to rise by an average of 7.3 percent annually, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services.
This is down from the spike observed in 2014 but is still higher than before 2013, when the country observed unusually slow growth — spending rose about 2 percent between 2008 and 2012.
For this reason, drug spending will continue to be a growing concern for clinicians, insurers and customers alike.