The number of Medicare beneficiaries who were on cholesterol drugs went up in between 2014 to 2018 but total costs decreased, a study published in JAMA Cardiology found that switching patients to generic cholesterol drugs saved Medicare billions of dollars.
In the study, researchers used the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Event Database to collect info on all outpatient drug expenditure for Medicare Part D beneficiaries from January 2014 through December 2018.
Over the four years, the number of Medicare Part D enrollees increased from 37.7 million to 44.2 million, while the number of LDL-lowering drugs increased by 23 percent, from 20.5 million to 25.2 million.
“One of the most important contributors to our health care costs is expenditure on prescription drugs,” says Ambarish Pandey, M.D., a cardiologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at UTSW. “The switch to generics is an effective strategy to cut the costs incurred by health systems.”
But researchers also noted that despite this increase in prescriptions for LDL-lowering drugs, total costs on these drugs went down.
In the US, 95 million adults have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL, and most are suggested to lower their LDL cholesterol through routine changes and LDL-lowering medications.
The most popular of these drugs are statins, researchers said, which are currently prescribed to more than 35 million people in the US. From 2010 to 2018, patents on statins and LDL-lowering drugs expired, which allowed drug makers to begin producing generic versions.
“Statins are one of the most important drugs to study in this context because they’re just so widely prescribed. But there are also other drugs that certainly have substantial costs to the health care system and need to be studied in this respect as well,” researchers said.
“It’s important for our health care system to find avenues to become more cost-efficient and accessible. Even though there is still a lot of work to be done, it is encouraging to see how quickly patients switched to generic options once they became available,” said Andrew Sumarsono, MD, an assistant professor of internal medicine at UTSW.
Additional studies could reveal the outcome that PCSK9 had on Medicare expenditure and prescription in the time since, as well as how out-of-pocket costs have changed over time.
But in 2015, a new class of LDL-lowering drugs, PCSK9 inhibitors, were launched. From 2016 to 2018, prescription for these drugs were low and increased by 144 percent, researchers found.
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