Prescription drug costs double in 10 years: MedCity Morning Read, Dec. 10, 2009

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has released data that won’t win Big Pharma much sympathy. Americans’ average cost per prescription more than doubled to $161 between 1996 and 2006.

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Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of health care:

Prescription drug costs double in 10 years: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has released data that won’t win Big Pharma much sympathy. Americans’ average cost per prescription more than doubled to $161 between 1996 and 2006, according to the agency. Those numbers apply to adults aged 18 to 44.

Perhaps more disturbingly, prescription drugs accounted for what AHRQ called a “notably larger share of all health care expenses”for the age group in 2006 –18 percent compared with 10 percent in 1996. Given health care spending trends, these numbers aren’t surprising, but they further underscore the importance of finding some way to hold down health costs for the average American. The numbers also make it extremely difficult to shed any tears for Big Pharma when we hear warnings of declining profit margins due to generic competition.

Slimming wallets, expanding waist lines: As Americans’ wallets have gotten lighter, our rear ends have gotten heavier. Obesity rates have risen 1 percentage point to 26.4 percent in the last year, according to the Gallup- Healthways Well-Being Index. The reason, not surprisingly, comes back to finances. About 70 percent of respondents to a survey said healthier foods are becoming increasingly difficult to afford. In this case, at least, what’s bad for America is good for McDonald’s and KFC.

Medicare at 55: By now you’ve probably read the latest twist and turn in Congress’ interminable health debate: Allowing Americans aged 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare. While this isn’t a new idea, and it could also require costly subsidies to help people buy in, there seems to be enough agreement among liberal and conservative Democrats, that it could actually happen.

Of course, that also means there’s no shortage of opponents lining up. Hospitals says the move is “unwise and should be opposed.”  Doctors, through the American Medical Association, oppose expanding Medicare because the government program pays them less than private insurers. And insurers oppose it, complaining that expanding Medicare would add millions of people to “a program everyone agrees is going broke.” Of course, all the opposition comes down to concerns about losing money.

However, the fine blog GoozNews offers a different, more compelling take on allowing Medicare buy-ins to 55-year-olds: It would save the health care system money in the long run.

The decade before people enter Medicare (55 to 64) is the time of life when many people develop the chronic diseases that will make them the most expensive patients in Medicare once they get there. … Intervening when the warning signals of these diseases first appear can moderate or even eliminate many of these costly conditions.

More beer, less prostate cancer: Finally, in news that will delight young fratboys and middle-aged alcoholics alike, a German study has revealed that a compound found in beer may help prevent prostate cancer. From Australia’s Herald-Sun:

Experiments have shown that xanthohumol, a compund derived from the hops in beer, blocks a chemical reaction that can lead to the development of cancer. The disease is usually treated with drugs that act in a similar way.

The study’s leader says that studies on the compound and its prostate cancer-preventing possibilities are only beginning, but if this one ever gets to human trials, it won’t be hard to find participants.