[PBS NewsHour] Small group of specialty drugs could make up half of total pharmacy spending by 2018

Some patients are paying sky-high prices for ‘specialty medications’ when cheaper options exist, a team of researchers has found.

A specialty medication is defined by Medicare as any drug that costs more than $600 a month. Such drugs typically require special handling like refrigeration or additional supplies like syringes. They represent only a fraction of prescriptions filled, but by 2018, are expected to account for half of total annual pharmacy spending, or $235 billion, according to a study published in the October issue of Health Affairs.

Though specialty medications are used by only 3.6 percent of the commercial population, rising costs of these drugs accounted for a 3.2 percent increase in total prescription drug spending in 2013. That’s $329.2 billion according to a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

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