Specialty drug prices to surge

Photo credit: Associated Press Photo credit: Associated Press

So much for deflating health care costs.

U.S. spending on specialty prescription drugs — those used to treat chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis — is likely to increase 67 percent by the end of 2015, according to data from Express Scripts.

The pharmacy benefits manager said the increase in spending over the next three years is mostly due to a large number of drugs under development and doctors delaying treatment of patients until they’re on the market.

Specialty medicines are prescription drugs that require special handling, distribution and administration. Many are biologics that are delivered through an injection or an infusion.

The new research comes as some critics of President Obama’s health care law argue that cancer patients could face high costs for medications due to PPACA.

Though the intent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is to give Americans access to quality, affordable health care, some advocates have said it will do the opposite and that the exchanges will discriminate against the patients with the most medical needs.

Express Scripts’ report found that by the end of 2015, cancer, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, will each command higher drug-spending than any other therapy class except diabetes. Meanwhile, spending on hepatitis C drugs will quadruple over the next three years thanks to new drugs.

Diabetes will continue to be the costliest prescription drug through 2015, with Express Scripts predicting a 24 percent increase because of high prevalence and a large number of drugs under development.

The good news is that overall spending on traditional prescription drugs — mostly pills used to treat common conditions such as high cholesterol and depression — will decline 4 percent by the end of 2015, Express Scripts said. That decrease is largely because of the availability of generic medications.

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