The cost of prescription medication used to treat aging-related conditions has been steadily increasing over the past five years and could overtake spending on some chronic conditions, according to research from pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts.

The study finds that, in 2011, spending on medications for conditions once considered a normal part of aging — mental alertness, sexual dysfunction, menopause, aging skin and hair loss — ranked third in annual prescription drug costs of the commercially insured, surpassed only by the cost of treating diabetes and high cholesterol. 

“We know chronic conditions are a big chunk of spending [for plan sponsors] but we found the spending on these [aging-related] conditions is matching the spending on chronic conditions,” says Dr. Reethi Iyengar, senior research manager with Express Scripts and one of the authors of the study. 

The research shows that, among a commercially insured population in 2011, $73.33 was spent per member on medications for treating aging-related conditions. This was $16% greater than the $62.84 per member spent on high blood pressure and heart disease, surpassed only by diabetes ($81.12 per member) and high cholesterol ($78.39 per member). From 2006 to 2011, costs went up nearly 46% while utilization grew 18.5%. 

“The magnitude of the findings surprised me. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests use of aging-related medication and medicalization of aging is growing, but nobody had put a number to it,” says Iyengar. “We expected growth but did not expect growth that was matching spending on chronic medication categories or even overtaking them.” 

The study also showed that while utilization and drug costs were highest among older commercially insured individuals, the greatest growth in cost per insured was among the 45-to-54 age group – up almost 21% over the five-year period. 

“Employers and plan sponsors need to look at cost-containment strategies such as utilization management programs, channels such as home delivery and prior authorization and step therapy to ensure people who need medications get it but at the same time, its use is safe and cost effective,” says Inyengar.

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