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The unit cost of Cuprimine (above) increased 2,143% from 2011-2015. Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

The federal government paid more money to fill fewer prescriptions in Medicare Part D between 2011 and 2015, according to a new federal report.

The bottom line: "Increasing prices for these drugs will affect beneficiaries and the government for years to come," Ed Burley, a deputy regional inspector general involved with the report, said on a podcast.

The big picture: Federal payments for brand-name drugs in Part D increased 62% between 2011 and 2015 — and that's after accounting for rebates that offer discounts on drugs' sticker prices. The number of actual prescriptions fell 17% over the same period.

The Office of Inspector General's study included some other noteworthy findings:

  • The unit cost for Medicare drugs rose six times faster than the general rate of inflation.
  • One of the most significant unit cost increases came from Cuprimine, a rheumatoid arthritis drug made by Valeant that soared by 2,143%, from $6 in 2011 to $135 in 2015. Medicare paid Valeant $48 million for Cuprimine over that time span.

Real-world impact: The percentage of seniors and disabled people who have Medicare Part D coverage and "who had at least $2,000 per year in out-of-pocket costs for brand-name drugs nearly doubled" from 2011-2015, per the report.

  • Most of these people are taking "maintenance" medications that treat chronic conditions, so these costs aren't going away and aren't attributed to new, expensive drugs.
  • The Trump administration also wants to move drugs from Medicare Part B to Part D.

Be smart: Pharmacy benefit managers and other middlemen in the supply chain have been getting their fill, but pharmaceutical firms are still some of the most profitable companies on the planet.

Go deeper

44 mins ago - Health

First known U.S. case of the Omicron variant identified in California

PhotoL Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday.

Driving the news: The confirmed case was detected in a traveler returning from South Africa who was fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, according to the CDC.

Supreme Court appears likely to roll back abortion rights

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed likely to weaken abortion rights and perhaps to let states ban the procedure altogether.

The intrigue: The court seemed likely to throw out the framework established in Roe v. Wade, but it wasn't clear whether a majority of the justices were inclined to overturn the court's precedents entirely.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

How to meme a painting

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

How can a physical artwork become an NFT? One new company has just spent $12.9 million on a Banksy in an attempt to try out a new way of converting the real into the virtual.

Why it matters: The art market globally sees volume of about $60 billion per year, almost all of which is trade in physical objects. Art-world insiders including former Christie's c0-chair Loïc Gouzer are on the lookout for ways to monetize physical paintings without necessarily giving up physical ownership of them.