Trends in Hospital Inpatient Drug Costs: Issues and Challenges


October 11, 2016

The price of prescription drugs has skyrocketed over the past several years. It seems that every day we hear a new report of how the cost of drugs hurts patients. When the price of a two-pack of Epipens jumped from $100 to $600 between 2007 and 2016 – an increase of 500 percent – parents around the country wondered if they would be able to acquire this life-saving medication for their children. When the cost of the infection-control drug Daraprim went from $13.50 to $750 a pill overnight, real patients ended up in the hospital when they could not follow their treatment regimens.

These price increases are extremely troublesome throughout the health care system. They not only threaten patient access to drug therapies, but also challenge providers’ abilities to provide the highest quality of care. Drug costs also are a major factor in the rising cost of health care coverage.

Hospitals bear a heavy financial burden when the cost of drugs increases and must make tough choices about how to allocate scarce resources. One hospital put the challenge starkly: last year, the price increases for just four common drugs, which ranged between 479 and 1,261 percent, cost the same amount as the salaries of 55 full-time nurses. And while nearly everyone can agree that price increases in the hundreds or thousands of percent are unjustifiable, many hospitals report that annual price increases of 10 or 20 percent on widely-used older generic drugs can have an even greater effect, given the large quantities that a hospital must purchase. Managing these skyrocketing cost increases forces difficult choices between providing adequate compensation to employees, many of whom are highly skilled in professions facing shortages; upgrading and modernizing facilities; purchasing new technologies to improve care; or paying for drugs, especially when these price increases are not linked to new therapies or improved outcomes for patients.

The American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals commissioned this study to better understand how drug prices are changing in the inpatient hospital setting. Given that inpatient hospital services are generally reimbursed under a bundled payment model, there is no single source for information on how much hospitals spend on drugs and how that amount has changed over time. We intend for this study to help inform policymakers and other stakeholders about the challenges hospitals face in acquiring life-saving treatments, and serve as a basis for further evaluating how drug prices impact the patients we serve.

Richard J. Pollack
President and CEO
American Hospital Association

Charles N. Kahn III
President and CEO
Federation of American Hospitals

AHA also released an infographic outlining how rising drug prices are hurting hospitals and potentially limiting access to care for patients.

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