Hospitals battle rising drug prices

Spending on drugs rose by a significant amount in 2014, and the federal government is warning that ongoing price growth in that area could put significant strains on patients' finances.

A report issued this week by the office of the assistant secretary for the planning and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that spending on drugs "rose by a remarkable 12.6 percent" in 2014 after years of subdued growth, and that spending trends remained elevated last year. The report projects spending growth on drugs is expected to maintain an overall annual clip of 7.3 percent between 2013 and 2018.

Other studies and trends suggest that drug manufacturers have been initiating significant cost increases for drugs, sometimes by purchasing the rights to old-line drugs and jacking up their prices by 5,000 percent or more. There have also been indications that as much as $3 billion a year is spent on wasted cancer drugs, primarily because drug firms pack them in dosage sizes incompatible with the large part of the patient population needing such medications for their treatment.

Some hospitals, hit hard by the cost increases, have turned to pharmacists to bend their cost curves. Pharmacists have been meeting with patients prior to the discharge to ensure they manage their medications appropriately in order to avoid readmissions. In many instances, patients are sent home with medications dispensed in the hospital as opposed to writing a prescription and presuming the patient would fill it upon discharge.

Such a program introduced by the firm Comprehensive Pharmacy Services cut readmissions by as much as half for some patients with specific medical conditions, Hospitals & Health Networks has reported.

To learn more:
- read the HHS report (.pdf)
- check out the Hospitals & Health Networks article