The pharma exhibits at the American Diabetes Association conference here last month stretched across the San Diego Convention Center floor like a mile of drugs.
Displays for Tresiba, Invokana and Victoza, to name just a few, conveyed the largesse of an industry that is skyrocketing by any measure: dollar cost per unit, the number of people purchasing them and the number of prescriptions sold.
With $51.5 billion in U.S. sales in 2016 alone, diabetes drugs had the highest amount of revenue in the nation, above drugs to treat cancer and autoimmune disease, according to QuintilesIMS, which analyzes information from drug companies and suppliers.
Some 29 million people with diabetes across the country take drugs to control glucose. Costs among the 136 brand name drugs soared* from $15.9 billion in sales in 2009 to $32.2 billion in 2014.
Among the 136 top brands analyzed, the drug with the largest revenue increase in 2014 is a pen that delivers doses of insulin by injection, sold as Lantus Solostar. Wholesale sales were up 525 percent from $714.8 million in 2009 to $4.46 billion in 2014.
According to the American Diabetes Association, insulin drug prices overall rose three-fold between 2002 and 2013.
“Insulin prices have skyrocketed,” said Pat VandenHeuvel of San Diego, whose 22-year-old son, William, needs those drugs for his Type 1 diabetes, a genetic form of the disease. For example, their insurance plan now charges $410 as a co-pay for a 20-day supply of one brand of insulin pens, up from about $350 a year ago.
Januvia, another top selling diabetes drug called a DPP-inhibitor, which is taken by oral tablets, increased from $1.53 billion in 2009 to $3.46 billion in 2014, or 126 percent.
Another Lantus insulin pen product was the third largest selling diabetes drug, with $1.9 billion in 2009 sales, growing to $3.4 billion in 2014, a 78 percent increase.
Medicare, which pays for care for some 55 million people, most of them 65 and older, is especially concerned about the cost of treating diabetes and its complications.
That’s because the agency spent $42 billion more in 2016 for services for Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes than for those that did not have diabetes. That included $5 billion for pharmaceuticals to treat diabetes. Per beneficiary, that’s $1,500 more on Part D prescription drugs, $3,100 more for hospital and other services, and $2,700 more on physician and other clinical services the agency said.
It isn’t just the cost of drugs that’s been increasing, but also the number of prescriptions. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of prescriptions for diabetes drugs rose from 186 million to 224 million in the U.S., a 20 percent increase. (That 2016 number may actually be higher, because an increasing number of prescriptions are being filled for a 90 day-supply instead of for 30 days.)
According to Quintiles, the “largest drivers” of growth in prescription sales were the increasing number of seniors who are more likely to have health problems requiring drug treatment.
These massive increases are a major reason Medicare officials want to prevent people from getting diabetes in the first place. Starting Jan. 1, it plans to roll out a program, described in an inewsource story June 29, that pays qualifying organizations up to $450 if participants stick to attendance in a year-long lifestyle program with 22 classes and lose 9 percent of their body weight within the year, and $425 if they lose 5 percent.
*The amount does not include reductions in prices due to coupons, discounts, rebates or promotions.
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