At a high level, growth in spending by private drug plans was moderate for the third consecutive year. However, the numbers belie significant, counteracting trends across drug categories.
On the one hand, strategies to increase the utilization of biosimilar biologics swept through private drug plans in several provinces in 2022, so much so that drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases no longer comprise the top category by eligible amount, after a tenure of more than 10 years. And for the first time in at least a decade, specialty drugs’ share of the total eligible amount did not increase; in fact, it declined slightly, to 33.1 per cent from 33.6 per cent. As well, the rate of growth in eligible amount (6.5 per cent) fell behind that of traditional drugs (8.9 per cent), again for the first time in more than 10 years.
On the other hand, the rate of growth for traditional drugs effectively counters the downward trending of specialty drugs.
“A combination of factors contributes to the surge in spend for traditional drugs,” says Lavina Viegas, Director, Client Service Management, TELUS Health, in the 2023 Drug Data Trends & National Benchmarks report. “Utilization is gradually rebounding since the start of the pandemic, and two of the top-10 categories, diabetes and ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], are seeing very strong growth for drugs that are relatively high-cost compared to other traditional drugs.”
Two other top-10 categories, asthma and depression, also saw higher growth rates in eligible amount due to the growing number of claimants.
When the lens is switched to utilization, or the number of claims and claimants, monthly utilization of private drug plans overall changed very little in 2022. Compared to before the pandemic, the number of insureds making a claim remained lower than usual while the number of claims per claimant remained higher than usual. Both measures, however, appear to be returning to pre-pandemic levels.
A closer look reveals three main findings: more claims for plan members under nine years of age, likely for antibiotics and other therapies to treat an upsurge in respiratory infections; more claimants and claims for antidepressants, especially for plan members under 19 years old; and more adult claimants for drugs to treat ADHD.
The TELUS Health 2023 Drug Data Trends & National Benchmarks report analyses claims data from the 2022 TELUS Health portfolio. The report is divided into four main sections: costs and utilization, specialty drugs, drugs by therapeutic class and plan management.
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