Report: US prescription drug spending rose 5.2 percent in 2015

A report from pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts found that US spending on prescription drugs rose 5.2 percent in 2015, roughly half the rate seen in 2014, driven by a 17.8-percent increase in specialty medicines. Express Scripts said that it included rebates in its annual drug spending report for the first time, which cut 2.7 percentage points off spending growth.

According to the report, the average price of brand name drugs increased 16.2 percent in 2015 and 98.2 percent since 2011. Express Scripts added that one-third of branded products experienced 2015 price increases greater than 20 percent.

Express Scripts noted that overall spending on specialty drugs accounted for 37.7 percent of drug costs, with the figure projected to rise to 50 percent by 2018. The report revealed that spending was greatest for specialty treatments for inflammatory conditions for the first time, with prices rising by 25 percent year-over-year for the drug class. The report indicated that the growth in spending on treatments for inflammatory conditions was fuelled in part by unit cost increases in excess of 17 percent for Amgen's Enbrel (etanercept) and AbbVie's Humira (adalimumab).

Meanwhile, for traditional drugs, prices declined by 1.4 percent last year, while use rose by 1.9 percent. The report found that spending on diabetes therapies jumped 14 percent versus the prior year, driven equally by increases in use and unit cost. Express Scripts said that the price of Sanofi's diabetes drug Lantus (insulin glargine) fell by 13.7 percent on a per-unit basis.

Looking ahead, Express Scripts estimated that prescription drug spending will rise by 6.8 percent this year, 7.3 percent in 2017 and 8.4 percent in 2018. The pharmacy benefit manager added that spending on specialty drugs, including treatments for inflammatory conditions and new therapies for cancer, is expected to increase by 17 percent over the next three years.

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