U.S. health agency estimates 2015 prescription drug spending rising to $457 billion
U.S. health agency estimates 2015 prescription drug spending rising to $457 billionReuters

The sale of prescription drugs in the U.S. is rising and is projected to continue to increase faster than the overall health care spending, thereby increasing this sector's share, according to a report titled "Observations on Trends in Prescription Drug Spending" by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) estimates that the prescription drug spending in the U.S. 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. 

An increase in spending on prescription drugs may occur when a greater quantity of prescriptions is dispensed or when the average price per prescription rises, the report said. The factors underlying this rise in prescription drug spending from 2010 to 2014 can be roughly allocated as 10 percent due to population growth; 30 percent to an increase in prescriptions per person; 30 percent to overall, economy-wide inflation; and 30 percent to certain other factors. 

Since the projections of the National Health Expenditure Accounts (NHEA) of total personal health care services indicate the growth at a slower pace of 5.2 percent between 2013 and 2018, prescription drugs are likely to comprise a higher share of all health care spending.

The report stated: "Assuming total drug spending grows at the same projected rate as the retail component, the total drug spending will reach $535 billion in 2018, or 16.8 percent of all personal health care spending compared to 15.3 percent in 2013."

The period of 2008 to 2012 had unusually slow growth in drug spending, however, in 2014, the growth in drug spending accelerated, contributing to the growth in total health care costs as well. 

Expenditures on specialty drugs generally appear to be rising more rapidly than spending on other drugs. Spending on these specialty drugs rose from $14.5 billion in 2009 to $27.1 billion in 2015, showing an average annual growth rate of 11.0 percent.