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And a new report shows spending on prescription medications rose just over 5 percent last year. That's more than inflation but much lower than cost increases in previous years. NPR's Alison Kodjak reports that high prices for specialty drugs for diseases like arthritis were offset by lower price generics.
ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: The new data comes from Express Scripts, the company that manages prescription drug insurance for about 80 million people. It shows the use of specialty medications is growing fast, and their prices continue to rise.
GLEN STETTIN: They're priced based on what the market will bear. That's how things work in the United States.
KODJAK: That's Glen Stettin, chief innovation officer at Express Scripts. He says the costs of specialty medications for complicated conditions are rising fast. They take up an ever larger share of drug spending - one example, inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis. The report says those conditions cost more than any other therapy area, the equivalent of $89 for every person with health insurance. Stettin worries about that trend.
STETTIN: When you have a drug that is expensive and it's for a few people and it actually impacts the overall affordability of health insurance and benefits, that's a challenge. And so we would argue that we would love to see all those people treated with the medicines they need to stay healthy. But we'd like to see it at costs that are more affordable for everyone.
KODJAK: Diseases like diabetes don't rely on complicated specialty drugs. But diabetes is also sucking up a large share of spending, about $78 per covered patient. Those high costs were offset by stable prices for generic drugs. The new report is the first that takes into account the confidential discounts Express Scripts and other insurers negotiate with drug makers. With those discounts taken into account, the rise in drug spending was smaller than many analysts had predicted. It's also the first glimpse at drug spending under the Affordable Care Act. The report shows prescription drug costs rose fastest for people who have insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. Analysts say that's likely because people are getting medications to treat chronic illnesses for the first time. Alison Kodjak, NPR News.
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