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Proactive CVS moves kept lid on prescription drug spending

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Despite soaring prescription drug prices, spending on prescription drugs is slowing for at least one large pharmacy benefit manager.

CVS Health Corp. on Tuesday said that the growth in prescription drug spending for its PBM clients dropped to 5% in 2015 from 11.8% in 2014.

That's despite the fact that inflation in the prices of brand, specialty and generic drugs was similar to that of 2014, the Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based pharmacy chain said in a statement.

Rising prices for brand-name, specialty and generic drugs continued to drive spending, according to a company spokeswoman, but the largest driver of the trend was price inflation in non-specialty brands, CVS Health said.

A January analysis by health care analytics company Truveris Inc. found that overall prescription drug prices rose 10.4% in 2015, compared with 10.9% in 2014. Prices for brand name drugs grew 14.8% in 2015, the analysis showed.

CVS Health also said increases in the price and use of specialty drugs, as well as the impact of new specialty drug launches, had less impact than price inflation of brands more commonly used, such as drugs for diabetes treatment.

CVS said the dramatic decrease in the prescription drug trend is attributable to its PBM CVS Caremark's pharmacy management strategies, which include flexible formulary options.

The firm was also able to stem prescription drug spending by negotiating discounts with drug manufacturers and encouraging generic drug use over brand-name drugs, the spokeswoman said.

“The double-digit drug trend increases we were experiencing in 2014 resulted in a call to action from our clients to help them ensure their plan members could access the medications they need to stay healthy, at an affordable price,” Jonathan Roberts, president of CVS Caremark and executive vice president of CVS Health, said in the statement. “Our programs were effective and successful, as shown by the dramatic drop in overall drug trend last year, and moving forward, we will continue to focus on identifying key drug trend drivers in real time and quickly deliver flexible solutions to our clients that result in additional cost savings for clients while improving the health of their plan members.”