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Specialty medications factor in 8.5% jump in prescription drug spending

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Fueled by escalating costs for specialty medications, total spending on prescription drugs jumped to $310 billion last year, an 8.5% jump over the prior year, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The analysis by the Princeton, New Jersey-based IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that spending on specialty drugs leaped 15% to $121 billion.

“Increased specialty spending was driven primarily by treatments for hepatitis, autoimmune diseases and oncology,” IMS said in the analysis.

A total of 4.4 billion prescriptions were dispensed in 2015, up 1% over 2014, but volume varied widely depending on the type of medication. For example, the number of antidepressant and diabetes prescriptions each rose about 10%, while the number of narcotic prescriptions dropped 16.6%, according to the analysis.

The analysis also found that patient exposure to prescription drug costs due to higher deductibles, copayments and coinsurance has climbed more than 25% since 2010, hitting $44 per prescription in 2015.

“The increased prevalence of health plans with pharmacy deductibles, copayments and coinsurance is contributing to the rise,” IMS said.

Looking ahead, the analysis projects that U.S. spending on prescription drugs will increase 4% to 7% annually over the next five years.