Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Brand name heartburn relief for Kentucky tops Medicare's spending

(AP) – The prescription to help Kentuckians battle heartburn totals more than $73 million.

The hefty price tag is the amount of money the federal government spent on Nexium, the brand-name heartburn relief drug, for the state's participants in the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program, according to statistics released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Researchers compiled more than one million distinct health care providers nationwide who collectively prescribed $103 billion in prescription drugs under the Part D program during 2013.

While Kentucky ranks 26th in population, the spending on heartburn relief medication was the eleventh highest in the country. The bill for Texas residents' Nexium totaled more than $265 million making it the most expensive in the country.

Totalling more than $48 million was Kentucky's bill for cholesterol-fighting drug Crestor making it the second the most costly prescribed drug for the state's Part D program participants.

The most-used medicines in Medicare's prescription drug program are generics, but the program spends the most on brand-name drugs, led by Nexium. That contrast sheds light on prescribing practices and how they might be used to save money, specialists say.

Of more than 3,000 drugs prescribed nationwide in 2013, AstraZeneca's Nexium alone accounted for $2.5 billion of the spending, prescribed to nearly 1.5 million Medicare beneficiaries. GlaxoSmithKline's asthma drug Advair Diskus accounted for $2.3 billion of the Part D program, followed by AstraZeneca's cholesterol blockbuster Crestor at $2.2 billion.

Contrast that with the 10 most-prescribed drugs for Part D beneficiaries that year, generics given to many times more patients but costing far less - from $145 million to $911 million for each. Specialists highlight the contrast as an example of why the data, released publicly for the first time, matter.

When the government agency mapped generic use, it found doctors in the West and Midwest prescribed cheaper generics for seniors far more than physicians in the rest of the country. 

Generic prescribing was lowest in parts of the South and along the East Coast.