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Can Formulary Management Bring Specialty Drug Spend Back Down to Earth?

Prescriptions for selected specialty
therapy areas, 2013 and 2018 

(Source: IQVIA, “Medicine Use and Spending in the U.S.,” May 2019)

Formulary management techniques continue to drive down expenditures for traditional medicines. It’s a different story, though for specialty drugs. In 2018, U.S. spending for traditional medicines fell 3.4% on a per capita basis while spending on specialty medicines trended north by 5.8%, according to IQVIA’s “Medicine Use and Spending in the U.S.” report. Total nondiscounted spending on specialty drugs was $218.6 billion, or 45.4% of total pharmacy spending of $482 billion, according to Doug Long, vice president of industry relations at IQVIA.

Nondiscounted spending includes all fees and other costs in the pharmaceutical supply chain, such as rebates and dispensing fees. Some say it is a more accurate figure for drug expenditures than, say, the net revenue of manufacturers, which is more commonly reported. Express Scripts painted a similar picture to IQVIA’s in its 2018 Drug Trend report.

In 2018, spending on traditional and specialty medicines seesawed for Express Scripts’ amalgam of commercial, Medicaid, Medicare, and ACA plans; spending on traditional medicines fell by 5.8% while spending on specialty medications rose by 9.4%. Express Scripts reported that specialty medications accounted for 44.7% of its total pharmacy expenditures, a number very close to the proportion reported by IQVIA. The company warned in its report that the specialty medicines could reach 50% of total pharmacy expenditures as soon as next year.

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Tyrone Squires, MBA, CPBS

I am the proud founder and managing director of TransparentRx, a fiduciary-model PBM based in Las Vegas, Nevada. We help health plan sponsors reduce pharmacy spend, by as much as 50%, without cutting benefits or shifting costs to employees.

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