Americans’ per capita spending on prescription drugs fell last year for the first time on record, according to a report released Thursday by the IMS Institute For Healthcare Informatics firm headquartered in Danbury, Conn., which tracks pharmaceutical sales and other health care data.
The report titled, “Declining Medicine Use and Costs: For Better or Worse?” found that in real dollars, total spending on prescription drugs fell by 3.5 percent per capita in 2012, while use of health care services, including visits to doctors, declined for the second consecutive year.
“The largest driver of this slowdown has been an unprecedented cluster of very popular and effective medicines losing patent protection and facing generic competition at the same time,” said Michael Kleinrock, a lead author and the company’s director of research development.
Total U.S. spending on medications last year was close to $326 billion – or $898 on a per capita basis, down $33 from 2011. Although the number of prescriptions filled in 2012 went up by 1.2 percent, that represented a 0.1 percent decline on a per capita basis, the report said.
The decrease was the first since the company began tracking such data 58 years ago, Kleinrock said. “The rate of growth for spending on prescription medicine has never been below zero,” he said.
The findings had been anticipated because of the scheduled patent expirations of blockbuster medications, such as the anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor, and the antipsychotic Zyprexa, he said.
According to the report, the patent expirations of common prescriptions resulted in a $28.9 billion reduction in spending. The increased availability of lower-cost generic drugs, which made up 84 percent of medications dispensed last year, smaller price increases and reduced spending on newer brands of medications were also factors contributing to the spending decline. The less severe cold and flu season in 2012 may also have contributed.
The report suggested there were some downsides to the reduced spending. “People are staying away from health care and not using preventive services as much,” Kleinrock said. “Many of these choices are being based on finances, and that may not be in the patient’s long-term health interest.”
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.