Study: Insurers' spending on costly meds soared from 2003-14

A new study finds that insurers’ spending on very expensive prescription drugs nearly quadrupled in the U.S. from 2003 through 2014, while the number of such prescriptions filled tripled over that stretch.

The study, published Wednesday by the journal Health Affairs, indicates spending on expensive “specialty” drugs by commercial insurance plans jumped from 11 per cent of prescriptions filled in 2003 to 43 per cent in 2014. Meanwhile, the number of prescriptions for specialty drugs rose from 0.6 per cent of prescriptions filled in 2003 to 1.8 per cent in 2014.

Researcher Stacie Dusetzina of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found patients’ copayments climbed 46 per cent over that period.

Specialty drugs were once defined as injected drugs for cancer and complex chronic conditions, but the term has become shorthand for very pricey drugs.