The Rising Drug Costs of Aging Well

Oct 30, 2012
Hair loss and sexual dysfunction used to be a normal part of aging. Now, we spend more on "aging" than on most chronic health conditions
  • Medicare
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure/Heart Disease
  • Seniors

A few decades ago, conditions such as hair loss and sexual dysfunction were considered a normal part of aging. Now, greater awareness and advances in medicine are helping many people have a better quality of life.

We now have medications for mental alertness, sexual dysfunction, menopause, aging skin, hair loss, hormone replacement therapy and urinary symptoms (noninfection).

But this medicalization of aging comes at a cost, and the price tag is now larger than that for treating most chronic conditions. In 2011, only diabetes and high cholesterol accounted for higher drug spend than aging, according to findings of an Express Scripts study presented today at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA)

The Price Tag for Medicalizing the Aging Process

Express Scripts 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 ($78.38 per member). From 2006-2011, costs went up nearly 46% while utilization grew 18.5%.

Medication costs aging treatments vs chronic conditions

Among Medicare members, utilization of these medications increased more than 13% in 2011, outpacing growth in the use of medications for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure combined. In the five-year period examined by the study, 2007-2011, utilization of aging-related medications among Medicare members increased 32%.

Changing Demographics, Finite Healthcare Funding

The U.S. population is aging. A study by the Department of Health and Human Services states that elderly people will make up nearly 20% of the entire population by 2030, up from less than 13% in 2009. This will continue to further drive up both use and cost of medications to treat the conditions associated with aging.

Since national healthcare funding is finite, the continued medicalization of the aging process could decrease money available to address major public health issues and treat chronic conditions.

And while there has been little attention paid to this class of medications before, it is imperative that effective utilization management strategies be designed to better control overall spending on these medications, without compromising access.

Related Charts:

Aging Medication Costs per Privately Insured Individual per Year 2006 to 2011

Aging Medication Costs per Medicare Beneficiary per year 2007 to 2011

Aging Medication Utilization per Privately Insured Individual per year 2006 to 2011

Aging Medication Utilization per Medicare Beneficiary

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