Biotech and Pharma

Drug spending by Blue Cross Blue Shield members rose 73 percent since 2010, even as generic use rose

Key Points
  • Drug spending increased by 10 percent annually since 2010.
  • Cost of brand-name drugs with patent protections and no generic alternative rose 285 percent.
  • A multiple-sclerosis drug saw spending rise more than 30,000 percent.
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There's a lot less in some people's wallets because of rising drug prices.

Since 2010, spending on prescription medication by members of Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plans has increased by 10 percent each year — for a total spike in spending of 73 percent, a new report revealed Wednesday.

The sharp uptick in overall drug spending came even as use of generic drugs, which tend to be less expensive than brand-name prescriptions, rose significantly. Generics currently account for 82 percent of total prescriptions filled, up from 66 percent in 2010.

The group examined medical claims of more than 30 million people with commercial health plans for its report.

Health care breakout?

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said the increase in spending is the result of "a small fraction of emerging, patented drugs and large year-over-year price increases that are more than offsetting" the growth in generic drug use.

"Current trends suggest that this rapid rise in drug trend costs is likely to continue in future years," said Maureen Sullivan, chief strategy and innovation officer for the BCBSA.

The group said that the cost of brand-name drugs with patent protections and no generic alternative has risen at annual rate of 25 percent since 2010, for a cumulative increase in cost of 285 percent.

"The patent-protected drugs now make up 63 percent of total drug spending, up from 29 percent of in 2010, despite the fact that they comprise less than 10 percent of total prescriptions filled," BCBSA said.

All but three of the top 25 single-source drugs in terms of spending in 2015 saw triple-digit percentage spending increases or even higher since 2010, according to the report.

The biggest increase in spending was a 30,230-percent increase on Gilenya, a treatment for multiple sclerosis made by Novartis.

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