Jun 4, 2018

Drug prices soar in Medicare despite fewer prescriptions

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

World coronavirus updates: Spain's health care system overloaded

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Two planes carrying protective equipment arrived to restock Spain’s overloaded public health system on Wednesday as confirmed cases surpassed 100,000 and the nation saw its biggest death toll so far, Reuters reports.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 930,000 and the global death toll exceeded 46,000 on Wednesday night, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy has reported more than 13,000 deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 13 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 932,605 — Total deaths: 46,809 — Total recoveries: 193,177Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 213,372 — Total deaths: 4,757 — Total recoveries: 8,474Map.
  3. Business updates: Small businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus job crisis.
  4. World update: Spain’s confirmed cases surpassed 100,000, and the nation saw its biggest daily death toll so far. More than 500 people were reported dead within the last 24 hours in the U.K., per Johns Hopkins.
  5. State updates: Florida and Pennsylvania are the latest states to issue stay-at-home orders — Michigan has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,200 and 78 new deaths in 24 hours.
  6. Stock market updates: Stocks closed more than 4% lower on Wednesday, continuing a volatile stretch for the stock market amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  7. 1 future thing: Shifts to telemedicine, at-home diagnostics, and drone delivery are all likely lasting consequences from this pandemic.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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U.S. coronavirus updates: Confirmed cases surpass 200,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Positive cases of the novel coronavirus passed 213,000 on Wednesday — nearly twice as many as Italy, per Johns Hopkins — as more state governors issued stay-at-home orders for Americans to curb infection.

The state of play: Trump administration officials are anonymously sounding the alarm that America's emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment is running dangerously low, the Washington Post reports.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 21 mins ago - Health