No End in Sight for Escalating Prescription Drug Spending

Escalator

Prescription drug costs are rising more than 10% a year, which is twice the rate of medical costs increases according to an A.M. Best report. Retail prescription drug spending grew 12.2% in 2014 compared to 2.4% in 2013. Driving the rising costs are increased spending for new medications, such as specialty drugs for Hepatitis C; patents that expired, price increases for brand name drugs, and higher health plan enrollment due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Drug spending from private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid accelerated in 2014. These costs have affected insurers. Also consumers are paying more out-of-pocket costs.

The increase in drug costs has become divergent to other health care costs. In 2014, U.S. health care spending increased 5.3% to reach $9,523 per person. The cost growth was primarily due to major coverage expansion under the ACA, particularly for Medicaid and private health insurance. The share of the economy devoted to health care spending in 2014 was 18.1%, up from 17.5% in 2013.

The medical loss ratio (MLR) remained relatively flat from 2010 through 2013 in the low 80 percentages before a decline in the past two years to around 75%. But the MLR was more than 10 basis points higher in 2010 to 2015 when prescription drugs were included.

Millenials Underestimate the Cost of Care

Millennials (ages 18 to 36) are more likely than are non-millennials to underestimate the cost of an injury or illness, including medical, household, and out-of-pocket costs (66% versus 45%), according to a survey by Aflac. Sixty-five percent say they could afford less than $1,000 for an unexpected out-of-pocket expense. Millenials are more inclined to try unconventional ways to pay for out-of-pocket health care expenses, such as borrowing from friends or family and crowd sourcing. The online study surveyed 1,500 benefit decision-makers and 5,000 employees at small, medium, and large companies

Exchange Consumers Are Becoming Savvy Shoppers

People who get health insurance through the public health insurance exchanges are increasingly confident about their ability to afford coverage. Also, they are just as satisfied with their coverage as are people with employer coverage, according to a Deloitte Consulting survey. Seventy percent of exchange consumers were able to manage their out-of-pocket expenses in the past year and only 25% had higher out-of-pocket costs than expected. However, lower-income people had a hard time paying for out-of-pocket costs.

Greg Scott of Deloitte said, “Health care consumers’ expectations for information and transparency are increasing, as is their interest in intuitive tools to access relevant information. Meeting these expectations should lead to increasingly more confident and satisfied customers.” Paul Lambdin of Deloitte said, “Out-of-pocket costs… are making exchange consumers pay close attention to the details of their coverage and changes in benefits and premiums.”

Knowing what costs to expect could also be increasing confidence. More exchange consumers understand the costs of their coverage than do people with employer insurance. Sixty-one percent of exchange consumers look at the total costs – not just premiums – when evaluating coverage options.

Also, more exchange customers are willing to accept network tradeoffs for lower payments than in 2015. These tradeoffs include a smaller network of hospitals (27% in 2016 as compared to 18% in 2015), a network that does not include their primary-care provider (26% in 2016 as compared to 16% in 2015), and a smaller network of doctors (26% as compared to 18% in 2015).

Sixty-six percent of exchange consumers used online tools to compare out-of-pocket costs compared to 58% of consumers with employer coverage. Scott said, “Exchange consumers continue to shop around for coverage and evaluate costs before making decisions and appear to be responding to messages about going online to look for health insurance information.”

Costs, Not Utilization Are Driving Children’s Healthcare Spending

In 2014, rising prices were largely to blame for the growth in children’s health care spending, according to a report from the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI). Health care spending  for children under employer-sponsored plans grew 5.1% a year from 2010 to 2014, reaching $2,660 in 2014. But the use of health care services declined from 2012 to 2014. HCCI senior researcher Amanda Frost said, “The decline in children’s use of health care services is a relatively new trend…While we know that prices have fueled much of the spending growth in 2014, future research should examine whether these higher expenditures are leading to better health care outcomes for children.” The survey also reveals the following:

  • Out-of-pocket health care spending on children increased 5.5% a year to $472 in 2014. This growth was due partly to higher out-of-pocket spending on ER visits, which increased 11.7% annually.
  • The average price for brand prescriptions went from $7 a day in 2010 to $16 a day in 2014.
  • The rise in the average price of brand prescriptions drove spending increases. In 2014, spending for brand prescriptions rose 6.8%. The average price for generic prescriptions remained stable.
  • In 2010, the average price of a surgical admission for a child was $35,423, and jumped to $53,372 in 2014.
  • ER visits accounted for 8% of health care spending for children in 2014.
  • The average price of an ER visit increased $298 from 2010 to 2014. At the same time, the number of ER visits dropped from 181 visits per 1,000 children in 2010 to 177 visits in 2014.
  • In 2014, there were 3,228 doctor visits per 1,000 children, down slightly from the previous year.
  • Doctor visits accounted for 12% of spending in 2014 ($339 a child), and made up the largest share of health care spending for the average child.

Drug Spending Growth Reaches 8.5% in 2015

Total spending on drugs in the United States reached $310 billion in 2015, up 8.5% from the previous year, according to a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. The surge of new drugs remained strong last year, and demand for new brands was high. Savings were relatively low from branded drugs facing generic competition. Price increases on brands had a limited effect due to higher rebates and price concessions from manufacturers. Specialty drug spending reached $121 billion on a net price basis, up more than 15% from 2014. (Net-price spending does not relate to a patient’s out-of-pocket costs or the amount health plans pay for drugs. It estimates the amount received by pharmaceutical manufacturers so it reflects rebates, off-invoice discounts, and other price concessions that manufacturers make to distributors, health plans, and intermediaries.)

Manufacturers are accepting lower price increases on existing products. At the same time, spending on new brands continued at near-historic levels. Increasingly, healthcare is being delivered by different types of healthcare professionals and from different facilities while patients face higher out-of-pocket costs and access barriers. The study predicts mid-single digit growth for drug spending through 2020, driven by innovative treatments and offset by brands facing generic or biosimilar competition.

Heightened competition among manufacturers, along with more aggressive efforts by health plans and pharmacy benefit managers to limit price growth, resulted in significantly lower price increases than in prior years. The report also reveals the following:

  • Spending on specialty drugs has nearly doubled in the past five years, contributing more than two-thirds of drug spending growth from 2010 to 2015. Treatments for hepatitis, autoimmune diseases, and oncology drove increased specialty spending. The year 2015 saw a 21.5% spending increase for specialty drugs.
  • Forty-three new active substances were launched in 2015 with a third receiving orphan drug designations from the FDA. An additional 30 brands were launched last year, bringing new combination therapies, alternative dosing, and treatment administration options to patients. The strong momentum of breakthroughs and R&D productivity is reflected in the 2015 cohort of new drugs.
  • Total prescriptions dispensed in 2015 reached 4.4 billion, up 1% year over year. Demand was higher in some therapy areas, such as antidepressants and anti-diabetes, each of which increased about 10% in 2015.
  • Over the past five years, integrated-delivery networks have expanded their affiliations with healthcare professionals to increase negotiating power with insurers, save money, and drive pay-for-performance initiatives. More than 54% of healthcare professionals are affiliated with integrated-delivery networks. In the past five years, there has been a 115% increase in urgent care centers and pharmacy in-store clinics. The number of prescriptions written by nurse practitioners and physician assistants more than doubled over the past five years.
  • While brand price increases are expected to continue in the 10% to 12% range, they will be significantly offset by rebates, discounts, and other price concessions.
  • The are very bright prospects for innovative drugs becoming available through 2020. The late-phase pipeline holds 2,320 novel products, with an average 43 to 49 to be launched annually over the next five years.

Obamacare Enrollees Face Growing Out-of-Pocket Costs

 

StethoscopeObamacare enrollees were already warned to prepare for double-digit rate hikes. Now, the structure of Obamacare’s tax credits is ratcheting up the out-of-pocket costs of premiums – especially for the lowest earning enrollees, according to a report by National Center for Policy Analysis senior fellow John Graham. “This ratchet effect on the out-of-pocket cost of premiums is greatest for the lowest earning enrollees [who are] only slightly above the federal poverty level. Some of them will see hikes of 50% or more. What’s behind this ratchet effect? Obamacare’s tax credits are determined by an enrollee’s income and the second-least expensive Silver plan in the locating region. This introduces harmful leverage into most enrollees’ renewal, which can increase the net premium by a significantly higher percentage than the increase in gross premiums. If every single enrollee who chose the second-lowest cost Silver plan in 2015 took the time to shop around and found the second-lowest cost Silver plan, which is usually different, the average gross premium hike would be 7.5%. This is an unlikely, best-case scenario, given enrollees’ behavior renewing from 2014 to 2015,” says Graham.

Numerous reports of double-digit rate hikes in Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges understate the increases most consumers are facing. The gross premium for the average Silver plan increased 10%. However, the subscriber earning 150% of the Federal Poverty Level has seen a 28% increase in net premium. “This is because of the perverse way tax credits are allocated to insurers in the exchanges. This ratchet effect explains why subscribers are more outraged by premium hikes than Obamacare’s advocates appreciate,” says Graham.

Health Costs for Older Singles vs. Couples

During a two-year period, single and couple households ages 65 and older spent an average of $2,500 per-person on out-of-pocket costs for recurring health care services. Recurring services include doctor visits, dentist visits, and prescription drugs, according to the study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). However, there are large differences in non-recurring health care spending between older singles and older couples. This includes overnight hospital stays, outpatient surgery, home health care, nursing home stays, and other services. Singles 85 and older spent and average of $13,355 on non-recurring health care while couples 85 and older spent and average of $8,530 during the two-year period. Some of the largest differences involve home health care and nursing home expenses.

Consumers Are Getting Hit With Unexpected Health Expenses

A survey by healthplans.com finds that almost one-third of consumers were surprised by out-of-pocket expenses two to three times this year. This reveals that many people don’t understand basic concepts about their health plans, like coinsurance and copays. Twenty-three percent said that health care services that they expected to be covered were not covered, which reveals that plan benefits are misunderstood or not adequately reviewed before people sign up. Forty-eight percent say that open enrollment brings them anxiety. When respondents were asked  why they were not planning to enroll in a plan in 2016, the most popular answer is that it is too confusing. Only 11% knew when the first open enrollment deadline was for coverage starting January 1, 2016.

Americans Want More Transparency in Health Plan Data

The ACA requires plans to disclose how often claims are denied or appealed, the availability of network providers, and what consumers will pay out-of-pocket for care out-of-network. Under the law, transparency reporting requirements were to take effect in 2010 for plans outside of the marketplace and in 2014 for marketplace plans. But these provisions have not yet been implemented. A recent notice proposes to delay implementation further, though it has not yet been finalized, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The public largely supports requiring health insurance companies to release data points, including data on the availability of in-network doctors and hospitals (84%), data on how often claims are denied or appealed (83%), data on how quickly the company pays claims (82%), and data on what a typical person pays to see a doctor who is not in the plan network (73%). Seventy percent say they would be at least somewhat likely to this information when shopping for a health insurance plan.

CMS holds firm on out-of-pocket spending rules

The CMS will not change rules regarding out-of-pocket spending limits for family insurance plans, Kevin Counihan, CEO of HealthCare.gov, said in a letter to employers. The rules limit subscriber spending on deductibles and coinsurance to $6,850 per single family member, though the maximum total out-of-pocket limit for family plans is $13,700 for 2016. Some large employers have said the clarification came too late for them to adjust 2016 plans. Modern Healthcare (tiered subscription model) (9/15)

Last Updated 09/12/2019

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