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Trends in Prescription Drug Spending, 2016-2021

Publication Date
Sonal Parasrampuria, Stephen Murphy

High prescription drug costs are a leading concern among Americans. Americans pay higher prices for prescription drugs than any other country in the world, with prescription drug prices in the U.S. more than 2.5 times as high as those in other similar high-income nations. To support the Administration's efforts to make drug prices and spending more transparent, the goal of this brief is to present the drivers of total spending on prescription drugs between 2016 and 2021. The analyses are disaggregated for retail drugs and non-retail drugs. We also examine spending specifically on brand name drugs, specialty drugs, and the top 10% of drugs by price. By examining trends over time, we capture changes in prescription drug spending during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, we find that spending growth on drugs was largely due to price growth in spending per prescription, and to a lesser extent by increased utilization (i.e., more prescriptions). Several provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act address drug pricing and may impact future drug spending trends.

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