Observations on Trends in Prescription Drug Spending


Key findings

• Expenditures on prescription drugs are rising and are projected to continue to rise faster than overall health spending thereby increasing this sector’s share of health care spending.

• ASPE estimates that prescription drug spending in the United States was about $457 billion in 2015, or 16.7 percent of overall personal health care services. Of that $457 billion, $328 billion (71.9 percent) was for retail drugs and $128 billion (28.1 percent) was for non-retail drugs.

• Factors underlying the rise in prescription drug spending from 2010 to 2014 can be roughly allocated as follows: 10 percent of that rise was due to population growth; 30 percent to an increase in prescriptions per person; 30 percent to overall, economy-wide inflation; and 30 percent to either changes in the composition of drugs prescribed toward higher price products or price increases for drugs that together drove average price increases in excess of general inflation.

• Expenditures on specialty drugs generally appear to be rising more rapidly than expenditures on other drugs, though estimates of specialty drug expenditures are highly sensitive to which drugs are considered “specialty” products.


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