Trending News Today: Out-of-Pocket Spending on Specialty Drugs Spike

Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.

A study published in Health Affairs reported a decline in the amount of Medicare prescriptions for chronic pain, anxiety, and depression, as well as a decrease in spending by Medicare Part D in states that have legalized medical marijuana, reported Kaiser Health News. According to the findings, medical marijuana saved Medicare approximately $165 million in 2013, and they estimated that it the policy was nationalized, it would have reduced Medicare Part D spending by about $470 million. Although it’s only about half a percent of the program’s total expenditures, the authors stated that it’s still something to keep in mind. “We wouldn’t say that saving money is the reason to adopt this,” said study author W. David Bradford. “But it should be part of the discussion. We think it’s pretty good indirect evidence that people are using this as medication.”

From 2003 through 2014, a recent study found that spending by US insurers on expensive prescription drugs nearly quadrupled. Although the rising costs of prescription drugs over the last decade has become a growing concern, specialty drugs were considered a small niche of this, reported The New York Times. However, with the new pricey drugs that have come onto the market for the treatment of conditions such as hepatitis C and diabetes, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services now defines specialty drugs as medications that cost $600 or more per month, while many researchers and stock analysts use specialty as synonymous with expensive. The spending on specialty drugs by commercial insurance plans increased from 11% of spending on all filled prescriptions in 2003 to 43% in 2014. Additionally, out-of-pocket costs for these drugs increased 46% between 2003 and 2014. A spokeswoman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Holly Campbell, told the Times that the drugs used in the study included treatments for patients with cancer and multiple sclerosis, who previously had little to no therapeutic options.

A new recommendation by leading American and British cancer researchers urges all men with advanced prostate cancer to consider being tested for inherited genetic mutations, reported The Washington Post. The recommendation was based on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which revealed that nearly 12% of men with advanced cancer had defects in genes that are supposed to fix any DNA damage compared to 4.6% of patients with the disease that hadn’t metastasized. “The study has a simple message,” said senior co-author Kenneth Offit in the report. “Those individuals with advanced prostate cancer should consider getting genetic testing, regardless of family history.” Currently, the testing is only offered to men with a family history of prostate cancer. However, researchers said they will continue to press for change in the clinical guidelines.