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IQVIA reports medicine spending rose in 2021 due to COVID-19 vaccines, therapies

Prescription drug use reached a record level of 194 billion daily doses in 2021 as new prescription starts for both chronic and acute care recovered from the slowdown recorded in 2020, the report revealed.

Spending on medicines in the United States, at estimated net manufacturer prices, reached $407 billion in 2021, up 12% over 2020, as COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics became widely available and added $29 billion in related spending, according to a new U.S. Medicines Trends 2022 Report, released by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science.

In the same year, the non-COVID medicines market grew more slowly, at 5%, from the growing impact of biosimilars, which increased significantly, offsetting increased use of branded medicines, according to the report.

The report also revealed that patient out-of-pocket costs in aggregate rose $4 billion, or 5.3%, in 2021 to a total of $79 billion, back to the level seen in 2018 after two years of declining costs. Those OOP costs remain a significant burden for a relatively small part of the population, even as average costs per prescription were flat or slightly declining. 

[Read more: IQVIA report: U.S. health system is recovering from pandemic]

“The rise in U.S. medicine spending was largely driven by the increased availability of pandemic vaccines, boosters, and treatments. It’s a testament to the resiliency of the biopharmaceutical ecosystem to respond successfully to a healthcare crisis at both the global- and country-level, while continuing to improve outcomes across the broader healthcare spectrum,” said Murray Aitken, IQVIA senior vice president and executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. “However, the $4 billion increase in OOP costs for patients matched the historical high previously seen in 2018, which is a trend we will need to continue to watch.”

Also noted was that utilization of health services returned to near pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021 but has yet to make up for the existing backlog of missed health services. The IQVIA Health Services Utilization Index — which tracks patient visits, screening and diagnostic tests, elective procedures and new prescription starts — increased to a level of 99 at the end 2021 compared to a baseline of 100 during the first eight weeks of 2020. This reflects a strong recovery in activity since the second quarter of 2020, when the index stood at 66.

Additionally, prescription drug use reached a record level of 194 billion daily doses in 2021 as new prescription starts for both chronic and acute care recovered from the slowdown recorded in 2020. Days of therapy for all types of prescription medicines were up 3.3% last year, rebounding from the 1.9% growth in 2020, when usage was significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

[Read more: IQVIA's Long sizes up trends impacting pharmaceutical market

Differences between list price spending and payer net spending exceeded $190 billion in 2021, representing a 24% discount off of average list price, up from $118 billion, or 20% discount, in 2016 as negotiated discounts and rebates to payers and providers increased in competitive markets and 340B organizations accounted for a larger share of medicine use. That increase was largely driven by growth in auto-immune and oncology treatments, which have tripled in spending over that period while traditional drug classes have declined by 3% in aggregate, the report noted.

Lastly, the report projects that U.S. use and spending on medicines are expected to return to pre-pandemic growth trends by 2023 despite year-to-year fluctuations and incremental spending on COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

“We expect to see compound annual growth of 2.1% (range of 1-4%) through 2026 and total market size of about $450 billion on a net manufacturer price basis. Those levels are comparable to pre-pandemic rates,” IQVIA stated.  

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