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March 19th, 2013
The lead article in today’s New York Times, “U.S. Drug Costs Dropped in 2012, but Rises Loom,” provides just a modicum of good news. For the first time since drug prices were monitored in 1957, the national cost of spending on prescription drugs dropped, albeit only by one percent.
The drop is spurred mostly by the widening use of generic drugs, but many predict this trend will end since generics are currently flooding the market. More than 80 percent of all drug prescriptions in the United States are now for generics, but many estimate the saturation point between 85-90 percent.
In addition, the cost of complex specialty drugs rose by more than 10 percent last year. These drugs for diseases like cancer are becoming more prominent in the prescription industry and are expected to fuel an overall rise in drug prices unless something is done.
One possible solution, the use of biosimilars, may become widespread; since biologic drugs cannot be exactly copied, these similar chemical structures may prove useful. Or patients may be asked to undergo less expensive treatments first.
It should be noted however that if a biosimilar reduces hospital stays, the impact on overall healthcare costs could still be worthwhile. But it’s hard to see how health insurance companies will handle drugs than can cost more than $200,000 per patient per year.
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