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Specialty drugs continue to drive up health care costs

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Pharmacy costs are expected to rise by double-digit percentages in the coming year, driven by a sharp increase in the cost of specialty drugs, according to an Aon P.L.C. survey.

The survey of 60 health care vendors released Thursday indicated that pharmacy cost trends will increase by 10.0% when employers renew their health benefit plans in 2015, up from 6.3% at renewal in 2014.

The increase includes a 22.7% rise in the cost of specialty drugs, including treatments for cancer and hepatitis, compared with an 18.2% increase in 2014.

“There is a robust pipeline of specialty drugs, which is contributing to the dramatic spike we see in cost trend,” John Malley, senior vice president and practice leader of Aon Hewitt's innovation pharmacy team in St. Louis, said Thursday in a statement outlining the survey results. “Oncology drugs have been filling the pipeline and will be the largest category of specialty drug approvals in the near future. Specialty drugs for cholesterol may also have a significant impact, given that the market has not had this type of drug for such a prevalent disease state before.”

Increases in medical costs, meanwhile, are expected to be slightly lower in 2015 than they were in the prior year.

Aon's survey predicts medical cost increases will range between 7.0% and 7.6% in the coming plan year, compared with increases of between 7.7% and 9.0% in 2014.

“Carriers continue to see price inflation as the single largest driver of increased medical costs, but an aging population, unhealthy lifestyle choices and provider consolidation are also contributing to the trend increase,” Tim Nimmer, Aon Health's global chief actuary in Denver, said in the statement. “As a result, employers are still gravitating toward managing year-to-year cost increases while keeping an eye on the near future to understand what new tools may be applicable to their specific workforces as a means to reduce health care spend.”