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Express Scripts says U.S. drug spending rose 5.2% in 2015

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(Reuters) — U.S. spending on prescription drugs rose 5.2% in 2015, including the effect of rebates, driven by an 18% increase in specialty drugs, Express Scripts Holding Co. said Monday.

Pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts said use of specialty medicines, which includes the new pricier treatments for hepatitis C, as well as older drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, rose 7% and was coupled with an 11% rise in unit cost.

Express Scripts said it included rebates in its annual drug spending report for the first time, which shaved 2.7 percentage points off spending growth. Last year's drug spending report showed an increase of 13% and did not include the impact of rebates.

Brand-name drug average prices rose 16.2% in 2015, and one-third of brand-name drugs had price increases greater than 20%, Express Scripts said. Specialty medicines accounted for 37% of drug spending in 2015.

Drug price increases, part of an overall rise in health care spending, have become a national issue as consumers push back on higher bills. Drug spending has risen to become a talking point for the 2016 presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton.

Looking ahead, Express Scripts said that it expects drug spending to increase 6.8% this year, 7.3% in 2017 and 8.4%.

Express Scripts said spending on prescription drugs for members with the individual health plans created by the Affordable Care Act rose 14.6%. Use of prescription drugs increased 8.6% and costs rose 6%, it said.

The rate of utilization of traditional medicines among these ACA plan members increased 8.7%, while cost was up 0.7%. Use of specialty medicines rose 4.7%, while prices increased 15.8%, Express Scripts said.