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Hepatitis C Medication Drives Drug Spending Up To Decade High

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Benefit manager Express Scripts released the 19th edition of its Drug Trend Report and revealed that expensive new treatments for hepatitis C and compounded medications have led to a 13.1-percent increase in drug spending last year, a rate not seen in over 10 years.

According to the report, hepatitis C drugs and compounded medication represent more than 50 percent of the increase in total overall spending. If these two are excluded, the drug trend for 2014 showed only a 6.4-percent increase in year-over-year per capita spending. The results of the report show the need for plans to decisively act as well as more closely manage pharmacy benefit to guarantee all patients are enjoying the best possible treatments available at a price they can actually afford.

In a forecast last year, Express Scripts said the trend in specialty drugs will more than double in 2014. True enough, specialty drugs accounted for 31.8 percent of overall spending despite representing just a percent of all prescriptions filled in the United States. Plans obligated to follow guidelines under Medicare Part D were the most affected with a 45.9-percent increase in yearly specialty drug spending.

Out of total specialty drug spending, medications for hepatitis C accounted for a 45-percent increase, leading the U.S. to spend 742.6 percent more on these medications in 2014 than it spent in 2013. But despite the higher spending, Express Scripts expects to help its clients save $1 billion in 2015 by offering a hepatitis C solution involving Viekira Pak through Accredo.

Express Scripts' Drug Trend Report analyzed information from over 750 million pharmacy claims. As a benefit manager, Express Scripts handles pharmacy benefits for 85 million individuals in the U.S.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease. It ranges in severity, going from a mild illness that lasts a few weeks to a more serious sickness attacking the liver throughout the life of the patient. Infections are spread mainly through blood contact with an infected person, about 21,870 cases of which were reported in 2012. Acute infections typically occur within six months of exposure to the hepatitis C virus while chronic cases are long-term infections typically leading from acute cases. Serious liver problems result from chronic hepatitis C, including liver cancer and scarring or cirrhosis.

Up to 85 percent of individuals diagnosed with hepatitis C will go on to develop the chronic version of the disease. About 3.2 million people in the U.S. are believed to be living with chronic hepatitis C, many of which don't know they are infected.

Photo: Jonathan Silverberg | Flickr

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