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A Healthier You

U.S. drug prices fall – first time since 1973


(Providence Journal) – Retail drug prices fell slightly last year for the first time in four decades, while the cost of private health insurance grew at a rapid pace, according to an authoritative government study of health-care spending.

The study, produced by actuaries at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, shows a 1% decrease in retail drug prices for 2018 as consumers relied more heavily on generic medicines and prices rose relatively slowly for many brand-name pharmaceuticals.

Still, as President Donald Trump and bipartisan members of Congress regard lowering drug prices as a political cause, total expenditures on prescription drugs rose 2.5% last year, to $335 billion.

Health spending overall climbed 4.6% in 2018 to $3.6 trillion, accounting for nearly 18% of the U.S. economy, according to the study, published in the journal Health Affairs. Health care expenditures amounted to $11,172 per person.

The slowing of drug price increases “means buyers are being smarter and more sensitive” looking for generic alternatives and other ways to avoid high-priced medicines, said Dan Mendelson, founder of Avalere Health, a Washington-based consulting firm.

“It’s tempting to declare victory when spending growth attenuates,” Mendelson said. But in part because health plans are shifting more of the burden to their customers, “the polling this year very clearly shows we are in a health-care affordability crisis, and consumers are facing a big squeeze on their finances,” he said.

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