If you’re like most everyone else around town, you’ve seen an upward trend in health insurance costs over the past few years. And while you might have a theory or two about what’s causing that to happen, a new report released earlier this week blames one specific thing: specialty drugs.
Skyrocketing specialty drug costs — like those for new-generation hepatitis C drugs that cost upward of $84,000 per treatment— are the No. 1 driver of health care expenses among large employers, according to an annual National Business Group on Health survey released Tuesday.
While specialty drugs are used by less than 4 percent of the population, 31 percent of employers surveyed by the Washington-based group indicated they are the top concern for driving their health care costs.
“This is surprising because specialty drugs weren’t even considered among the top five drivers of health costs in the same survey just three years ago,” said Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. There is a projected 17 percent jump in specialty drug costs as the result of a pipeline of new medications expected in oncology, multiple sclerosis, gastrointestinal disease, psoriasis, asthma and diabetes, Marcotte said.
While these drugs have the potential to be very beneficial, “they have the potential to be very expensive,” Marcotte said.
Overall, companies project their costs will rise 6 percent this year — or 5 percent when savings from plan design changes are taken into account. That is stable from previous years.
“But the annual trend of 5 percent to 6 percent is really unsustainable,” Marcotte said. “It’s still the No. 1 priority employers are focused on. And it really threatens the overall long-term affordability of health care.”