With the election looming, we’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about healthcare. Rising costs, limited access, reforming Medicare…the list goes on and on. Whatever happens on November 6, it seems the American public has already spoken. According to new research just unveiled at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting, the cost of lifestyle drugs now exceeds the cost for medications used to treat chronic disease.
The research suggests that medicines used to treat conditions considered a normal part of aging, including those related to hormone replacement therapy, sexual dysfunction, menopause, aging skin, hair loss and mental alertness, are becoming so popular that they now rank third. Only diabetes and high cholesterol have a greater cost impact among commercially insured patients.
Researchers at Express Scripts in St. Louis looked at trends in prescriptions filled for aging medications. In 2011 alone, the cost per person for aging medications ($73.30) was 16% greater than the amount spent on both high blood pressure and heart disease medications ($62.80). The cost for diabetes medications was $81.12 and high cholesterol medications was $78.38.
The research found that among these insured individuals use of drugs to treat the physical impact associated with normal aging was up 18.5% and costs increased nearly 46% from 2006 to 2011. Increased use of these drugs was even more pronounced for the Medicare population (age 65+), up 32% from 2007 to 2011. The largest utilization jump among Medicare beneficiaries was from 2010 to 2011, up more than 13% and outpacing increases in the use of drugs for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure combined.
“At a time when people are forgoing care due to rising health costs, this study reveals a growing trend on where the public is placing its healthcare dollars,” said Reethi Iyengar, PhD, researcher at Express Scripts. “Continued monitoring and potential management may be warranted for this category of medications.”
While there is no doubt that pharmaceutical advances and greater awareness have improved the quality of life for many aging Americans what was not known, until now, is the significant cost associated with treating these conditions. Couple that with the proliferation of people living longer and it’s clear that managing the trend and spend from treating conditions associated with aging will become increasingly important.
The United States is in the midst of a profound demographic change, with the number of elderly people projected to reach nearly 20% of the entire population by 2030, up from less than 13% in 2009. This increase will continue to drive both use and costs of medications to treat the natural conditions of aging.
But the problem may be even bigger. The greatest growth in cost per insured was seen among the 45 to 54 age group – up almost 21% over the last five-years. And because the study only analyzed prescription medications it may have underestimated the total costs of aging treatments, which include a variety of over-the-counter medications, cosmetic treatments and surgery.
Seems getting old hurts not only our bodies, but our wallets and the economy too.