TRENTON, N.J. – Spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. was nearly flat in 2011 at $320 billion, held down by senior citizens and others reducing use of medicines and other health care and by greater use of cheaper generic pills.
Last year, spending on prescription drugs rose just 0.5 percent after adjusting for inflation and population growth, according to data firm IMS Health. Without those adjustments, spending increased 3.7 percent last year. The volume of prescriptions filled fell about 1 percent.
That continues a trend of restrained spending that began in 2007, when prescription spending dipped 0.2 percent. Before then, IMS generally reported annual spending increases of several percent. But since the recession began, prescription spending has fallen or risen only slightly each year except for 2009.
IMS said Wednesday that it appears patients are still rationing their health care, with visits to doctors down 4.7 percent and hospital admissions down 0.1 percent. However, emergency room visits jumped 7.4 percent, a sign some people arent seeking care until they are very sick.
We think weve reached a tipping point, where people are thinking theyre paying too much and theyre changing their behavior and getting less treatment, said Michael Kleinrock, head of research development at the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
Fewer visits to doctors and other health care providers results in fewer prescriptions getting filled, which holds down spending in the short term. But that doesnt bode well for future health care costs, because many of the medicines people are doing without are taken for years to prevent heart attacks and other expensive complications of chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, Kleinrock said. The ultimate result is that we will have more sick people driving health care costs down the road, he said.
People 65 and older cut the number of prescriptions filled by 3.1 percent last year, particularly for medicines for high blood pressure. That was despite a 10 percent decline in prescription co-payments under the Medicare Part D program because of bigger discounts when patients hit the doughnut hole coverage gap.