Medicare Part D Spending Rose 17% in 2014 Because of High-Cost Drugs

Medicare spending on prescriptions increased more than 17% in 2014, despite a claims increase of only about 3%, according to data released Thursday.

The second annual set of data shows prescription drugs paid for under the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program, which has 38 million beneficiaries. The data include more than 1 million distinct providers.

The data dump comes as rising drug costs have drawn criticism from healthcare providers and payers, consumer advocates, lawmakers and political candidates, including presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The increase in 2014 for Part D spending was significantly higher than the 12.6% rise in overall drug spending from 2013 to 2014.

Under Medicare Part D in 2014, doctors wrote more than 1.4 billion prescriptions, together costing the program and beneficiaries more than $121 billion. Drugs to treat heart disease were among the most dispensed. Unsurprisingly, the top 10 most prescribed drugs were all generics, while the most expensive drugs were all brand names.

The drug with by far the highest cost, despite having the lowest claim count of the top 10 most expensive, was Gilead’s hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi at more than $3.1 billion. Next were Nexium, which treats gastroesophageal reflux disease, and the cholesterol drug Crestor.

Of the top 10 most prescribed, four were for high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Lisinopril, sold under the brand names Prinivil and Zestril, was the most prescribed with more than 38 million claims among about 7.4 million beneficiaries.

The 10 drugs with the highest costs are made by eight companies, with AstraZeneca and Sanofi showing up on the list twice.

CMS Chief Data Officer Niall Brennan said in a statement that the information in the database would be useful for patients, researchers and providers.

“Today’s release joins a series of actions the administration is taking to improve transparency around government data, including the cost of prescription drugs,” he said.

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