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Drug costs continue to rise; no end in sight: prescription drug spending increased 90 percent between 1998 and 2002.

During the past five years, spending on prescription drugs by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield for its members has increased approximately 18 percent each year; that's a 90 percent increase in spending on prescription drugs. In the next five years, it probably will increase by another 18 percent or more each year.

Compare that to the 5.25 percent-per-year increase in spending on medical services for members by Arkansas Blue Cross during the past five years. That amounts to an increase of 26 percent in spending on medical services (including physician fees, outpatient and inpatient costs) during the past five years. Spending on prescription drugs increased at a rate of more than three times when compared to spending on medical services.

Is there any way to decrease the spending on prescription drugs? Actually, there is. When consumers are prescribed or request generic drugs, everyone saves money. For example, in Arkansas in 2001, the average cost of a brand-name drug was $66 while the average cost of a generic drug was $18. In 2002, the average cost of a brand-name drug increased to $72 while the average cost of a generic drug actually decreased to $16.50.

Below are the brand-name drugs with a generic equivalent that were often prescribed (and were the most costly) for Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage members during 2002. Note the difference in cost when the generic is compared to its brand-name counterpart. All costs listed below for prescription drugs are the actual cost for Arkansas Blue Cross and Health Advantage; however, members pay the copayment as specified by their benefit plans.

Other high-cost drugs often prescribed for members include Prevacid for gastritis/esophagitis with an average cost of $120; Celebrex, a pain reliever with an average cost of $86; Zocor, a cholesterol-lowering drug with an average cost of $95; and Vioxx, a pain reliever with an average cost of $70. These three drugs are all on the third tier of the Arkansas Blue Cross Medications Formulary, meaning they have the highest copayment for our members, and there is no generic equivalent for the drugs at this time. However, it's possible there may be a drug on the second tier of the formulary that offers the same effectiveness. The second-tier drugs are brand-name-preferred drugs that offer a mid-level copayment. If you are using a third-tier drug, you may want to discuss with your physician other prescription options for your treatment.

Here are some second-tier formulary drugs without a generic equivalent at this time (mid-level copayment prescriptions). Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug with an average cost of $75; Zoloft, an antidepressant with an average cost of $55; Protonix, a drug used for gastritis/ esophagitis with an average cost of $85; Paxil, an antidepressant with an average cost of $73; and Effexor XR, an antidepressant with an average cost of $84. These drugs often are prescribed for our members.

In some instances, there are no generics available for brand-name prescription medications. However, you should always discuss with your physician the best course of action to take in your situation, whether there is a generic drug available, or if there is a lower-cost drug available that is suitable for you as a treatment option.
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Comment:Drug costs continue to rise; no end in sight: prescription drug spending increased 90 percent between 1998 and 2002.
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 18, 2003
Words:536
Previous Article:On-line resources for health and prescription drug information.
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