Express Scripts says U.S. drug spending rose 5.2 percent in 2015

NEW YORK U.S. spending on prescription drugs rose 5.2 percent in 2015, including the impact of rebates, driven by an 18 percent increase in specialty drugs, Express Scripts Holding Co said on Monday.

Pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts said that use of specialty medicines, which includes the new pricier treatments for hepatitis c, as well as older drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, rose 7 percent and was coupled with an 11 percent rise in unit cost.

Express Scripts said it included rebates in its annual drug spending report for the first time, which shaved 2.7 percentage points off spending growth. Last year’s drug spending report showed an increase of 13 percent, and did not include the impact of rebates.

Brand name drug average prices rose 16.2 percent in 2015, and one-third of brand-named drugs had price increases greater than 20 percent, Express Scripts said. Specialty medicines accounted for 37 percent of drug spending in 2015.

Drug price increases, part of an overall rise in healthcare spending, have become a national issue as consumers push back on higher bills. Drug spending has risen to become a talking point for the 2016 presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton.

Looking ahead, Express Scripts said that it expects drug spending to increase 6.8 percent this year, 7.3 percent in 2017 and 8.4 percent.

Express Scripts said that spending on prescription drugs for members with the individual health plans created by the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, rose 14.6 percent. Use of prescription drugs increased 8.6 percent and costs rose 6 percent, it said.

The rate of utilization of traditional medicines among these Obamacare members increased 8.7 percent, while cost was up 0.7 percent. Use of specialty medicines rose 4.7 percent while prices increased 15.8 percent, Express Scripts said.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by Alan Crosby)

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