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Cutting Medicare Costs for Steroids

The cost of generic medications has been rising, and as a result costs to both Medicare and out-of-pocket expenses for patients are also increasing. A recent study examined spending on both generic and branded drugs from 2011 to 2015 by Medicare Part D participants who filled prescriptions for topical steroids. The study was a retrospective analysis based on the Medicare Part D Prescriber Public Use File. The authors chose to focus on topical steroids because they treat a broad range of dermatoses and are among the most commonly prescribed agents in dermatology.

The results showed that in a four-year period, the cost of topical steroids increased from $237.6 million to $775.9 million (225%) while the number of prescriptions increased a disproportionate 37%. Spending on topical steroids cost the Medicare Part D program $2.3 billion during that period. The authors note that if prescribers had written for the cheapest topical steroid within the same potency class, Medicare could have saved $944.8 million. In addition, the analysis may actually underestimate the true cost of topical steroids in this patient population because supplemental coverage was not included.

Based on these data, the authors conclude that topical steroids represent an area with tremendous health care spending. They state that health policies should emerge to better regulate pharmaceutical company practices and improve transparency surrounding drug costs. For now, clinicians may benefit from using interventions such as electronic medical record–based clinician support to help them determine the most affordable topical steroids available on the market, ensuring efficacy while minimizing costs. The authors caution that without efforts, routine medications may become prohibitive in cost.


Byline: Martha L. Sikes, MS, RPh, PA-C

Posted: September 11, 2017

Source: JAMA Network
Adapted from the original article.

[Image: Shutterstock]

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