COST CONCERNS


Feds: Seniors won’t save by skimping on drugs

Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Medicare recipients filled fewer prescriptions for pricey brand-name drugs – but spent more on such meds anyway, says a government report released Monday. It blames rising manufacturer prices for squeezing older people and taxpayers.

The Health and Human Services inspector general’s office says it found a 17 percent drop in the overall number of prescriptions for brand-name medications under Medicare’s “Part D” drug program over a recent five-year period. But beneficiaries’ costs for branded drugs went in the opposite direction. From 2011 to 2015, their share of annual costs rose by 40 percent, from $161 in 2011 to $225 on average. Data for 2011-2015 were the most recent available for the analysis.

“Increases in unit prices for brand-name drugs resulted in Medicare and its beneficiaries paying more for these drugs,” said the report. Rising Medicare payments for brand-name drugs “will continue to affect Part D and its beneficiaries for years to come.”

Although new drugs priced at $100,000 a year or more grab headlines, the report emphasized that the most persistent problem for Medicare beneficiaries is the high cost of maintenance medications for common chronic conditions such as diabetes. Total out-of-pocket costs for patients were highest for brand-name insulin, cholesterol drugs and asthma inhalers.

The affordability of maintenance medications “directly impacts Medicare beneficiaries and their ability to access the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy,” Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general, said in an interview. “This has an immediate, direct impact on their quality of life and their health.”

The data driving the report predate the Trump administration, but its conclusions dovetail with how officials view the problem. HHS Secretary Alex Azar says two of the main issues for the U.S. are high list prices for drugs and high out-of-pocket costs, especially for Medicare beneficiaries.

The administration has proposed a long list of measures to increase competition, shed light on pharmaceutical pricing and straighten out industry and government practices seen as artificially raising costs. But drug pricing is cryptic and complex; it remains unclear how long the administration will take to put plans in place, and how dramatic an impact that would have.

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