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Medicare Part D spending up more than 17% in 2014 as drug prices rise

CMS paid $121B in drug costs in 2014, data shows.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Drug costs increased more than 17 percent from 2013 to 2014, compared to a 3.3 percent increase in the total cost of claims, according to Medicare Part D data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday.

Insulin products Lantus Solostar and Lantus led the way in having the highest increased rates of 47 and 32 percent, respectively.

Drugs Abilify (to treat depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), Januvia (Type 2 diabetes) and Revlimid (anemia and myeloma) followed with rates of 20 percent or higher.

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On the lower end, Advair Diskus had a cost growth rate of only 1 percent.

CMS paid $103 billion for drugs in 2013, and $121 billion in 2014, according data on what the federal government paid under the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program.

[Also: Medical marijuana yields modest budget benefits for Medicare Part D, study finds]

By comparison, total claims in 2013 cost $1.3 billion, and in 2014, $1.4 billion.

All of the top ten drugs by claim count are generic drugs, and the top nine drugs were among the drugs with the highest claim counts in 2013. The claim counts for these drugs ranged from 22.1 to 38.3 million claims and the total drug costs for each drug ranged from $136 million to $748 million.

The 2014 top 10drugs by total cost are all brand name drugs, with relatively fewer claims. In 2014, Solvaldi, used to treat hepatitis C, had the highest total drug costs at $3.1 billion, but the costs for each of the top 10 drugs were all more than $1 billion, CMS said.

In order of top 10 drugs by cost, the next, Nexium is used to treat acid reflux; Crestor, which treats high cholesterol; Abilify, which treats depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; Advair Diskus treats chronic bronchitis and asthma; Spiriva treats bronchospasm, a narrowing of the airways in the lungs; Lantus SoloSTAR is an insulin pen; Januvia treats Type 2 diabetes; Lantus is an insulin pen; and Revlimid treats anemia caused by a lack of red blood cells and the cancer myeloma.

[Also: Brand name drugs jack up Medicare Part D co-pays by factor of 10, study shows]

The data is being used to examine patterns across the country.

For example, the data shows the South has the highest rates of medication labeled as high risk, particularly for the elderly, while some Western states and Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as the New England states, have the lowest risk.

The data shows the South and Midwest have the highest rates in the prescribing of antibiotics.

The 2014 data contains information from over 1 million healthcare providers who collectively prescribed approximately $121 billion in prescription drugs paid for under the Medicare Part D program.

Overall prescription drug spending rose by 12.6 percent between 2013 and 2014, CMS said.

Medicare Part D enrollees represent about 70 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries.

The data set was created using information submitted by Medicare Advantage Prescription drug plans and stand-alone prescription drug plans.

The 2014 data set includes new aggregated information on opioids, antibiotics, antipsychotics, and high-risk medications among the elderly.

In addition, a prescriber enrollment status field has been added to indicate whether the prescriber is enrolled, not enrolled or opted out of the Medicare program.

"With this data release, patients, researchers and providers can access valuable information about the Medicare prescription drug program," said Niall Brennan, CMS chief data officer. "Today's release joins a series of actions the Administration is taking to improve transparency around government data, including the cost of prescription drugs."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse