Brand-name statin prescriptions account for $5.8 billion in costs

October 21, 2011

According to a recent study, $5.8 billion was spent in 1 year on the unnecessary prescription of brand-name statins.

According to a recent study, $5.8 billion was spent in 1 year on the unnecessary prescription of brand-name statins. The study, which examined the frequency and associated costs of unnecessary services in primary care, was reported online October 1 in Archives of Internal Medicine.

Minal S. Kale, MD, division of general internal medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and colleagues from University of California, San Francisco and San Francisco Veterans Affairs Hospital, performed a cross-sectional analysis using data from the 2009 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

The overall expenditure for unnecessary services in primary care in 1 year, according to study data, was $6.7 billion. Of all services, the cost of prescribing brand-name statins rather than generics to treat high cholesterol accounted for 86% of the total.

“Although generic drug substitutions may appear to be a ‘low hanging fruit’ for drug savings, numerous efforts have already been made by the US states (generic substitution laws), payers (tiered formularies), and healthcare providers (generic drug detailing) to achieve this goal,” the authors wrote. “In this light, our data suggest that considerably more work is needed to reduce the costs associated with brand-name statin use.”

Additional activities contributing to the high expenditure included, most frequently, the order for a complete blood cell count for a general medical examination, which was associated with a $32.7 million cost (95% CI, $23.9–$40.8 million); bone density testing in women younger than aged 65 years, accounting for $527 million in costs; CT, MRI, or radiography imaging for back pain (excluding cases of malignancy, weight loss, fever, cachexia, or neurological presentations), accounting for $175 million in costs; and prescribing antibiotics to children with sore throats (excluding cases of strep throat or fever), accounting for $116 million in costs.

“Our results also demonstrate that highly prevalent activities with small individual costs can result in large overall costs to the healthcare system and thus warrant further attention,” the authors wrote.