As the year comes to a close, we thought it would be fun, and educational, to look back at all of our blog posts from 2017, to see what topics resonated the most with our followers. And the answer was pretty definitive. We planned to talk about our top 3 blogs, but the fact is that 4 of our top 5 blogs of the year were all largely on the same topic. And that topic is specialty medications.
Specialty medications are a particular class of medications that are used to treat complex conditions like cancer, hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis and MS. They are typically much more expensive than other drugs, and often require special handling (e.g., refrigeration) and administration (injection, infusion etc.). In our business, specialty medications are always a focus of attention because a) They are some of the most advanced, life-saving, game-changing medications around; and b) They are very expensive and account for a disproportionate share of the costs associated with prescription drug plans.
At Express Scripts Canada, we are focused on delivering healthcare solutions that bring about better health outcomes while keeping costs under control. Given that specialty medications make up a bigger and bigger part of total drug spending in Canada (currently 30%), we put a particular emphasis on these medications when working with our clients to make sure their drug plans are sustainable today and into the future.
So without further ado, here are our top 3 blog posts of 2017:
This post was our third most popular of the year, and is the exception that proves the rule. Although Alzheimer’s disease is a very serious condition, and the drugs used to treat it are quite costly (hundreds of dollars a month), they are not considered specialty medications.
The post was released in January, which is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and provides a summary of the most common medications used to treat the disease. Unfortunately, the fact is that while there are a number of medications available that ease Alzheimer’s symptoms to some degree, there are currently no medications that have been proven to slow the progression of this disease.
The main theme of the blog is safety and support. Given that cognitive challenges might render patients unable to advocate for themselves, the piece stresses the role of the pharmacist as an advocate that can help prevent negative drug interactions and other complications of the disease.
In May, we released our flagship publication, the 2016 Drug Trend Report. This post, which summarized the findings of the report, was our second most popular blog post of 2017. The main theme of the report in 2016 was, you guessed it, specialty drugs. In brief, the report found:
Spending on specialty drugs grew from 13% to 30% of total drug spending between 2007 and 2016.
Tighter plan management and the successful completion of treatment for many Canadian Hepatitis C patients limited the increase in specialty spending to 3.2% in 2016.
Spending on anti-inflammatory medications increased by 11.7% primarily due to increased use.
Diabetes and inflammatory conditions account for 1/5 of all prescription drug spending
Diabetes drug spending increased by 13.7%, largely due to an alarming number of patients not receiving the most proven treatments.
Costs for cancer and ADHD medications also increased by more than 10%.
The report highlights that fact that the implementation of comprehensively managed plans is the best way to improve health outcomes, particularly for specialty patients, and to combat cost challenges identified in the report.
It stands to reason that our top blog of the year was a breakdown of the very topic of specialty drugs, what they are, the exciting possibilities that they represent, but also the daunting cost challenges.
We often focus on the negative aspects of prescription drugs. Namely, their cost. But the fact is that thanks to new specialty medications, conditions that were once untreatable, are now in some cases easy to treat. Hepatitis C is the best example. But along with new miracle drugs come staggering costs. And the fact is that although hepatitis C is now curable, the cure can cost as much as $268,000 for a single patient.
The blog touches on the challenges for drug plan sponsors of keeping plans sustainable in light of these costs, but also provides guidance to patients who may need help with the out-of-pocket costs.
So specialty was the theme of 2017, and may well continue to be the theme going into the new year. Although relatively few Canadians need these drugs, it is a topic that we all need to get familiar with because it promises to represent more than 40% of total drug spending by 2020, which is the single biggest challenge facing the sustainability of employer drug plans in the coming years.