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Survey: Specialty drug costs could rise 23% next year

That's compared to 18 percent increase in 2014, Aon Hewitt survey finds

Pharmacy costs will likely continue to increase next year, with specialty drugs driving much of that cost growth, according to a new survey from Aon Hewitt.

After surveying 60 healthcare vendors, Aon Hewitt concluded that pharmacy cost trends will rise by 10 percent when employers renew their health insurance plans for next year. That's up from 6.3 percent at renewal last year.

What's particularly noteworthy is that increase in pharmacy costs includes an almost 23 percent rise in specialty drug prices, especially medications for cancer and cholesterol. That's up from an 18 percent increase in 2014.

"There is a robust pipeline of specialty drugs, which is contributing to the dramatic spike we see in cost trend," John Malley, leader of Aon Health's Innovation Pharmacy Team, says in a statement. "Oncology drugs have been filling the pipeline and will be the largest category of specialty drug approvals in the near future. Specialty drugs for cholesterol may also have a significant impact, given that the market has not had this type of drug for such a prevalent disease state before."

The insurance industry has been battling drug makers over pricey specialty medications like hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, and has been adopting measures to shift these drugs' high costs onto consumers, FierceHealthPayer has reported.

Some insurers have also implemented innovative strategies to offset the rising drug prices, while still helping their members access important treatments. Aetna, for example, gives its members taking specialty meds information on copayment assistance programs and community support programs.

"Carriers continue to see price inflation as the single largest driver of increased medical costs," Tim Nimmer, Aon Health's global chief actuary, says in the statement.

To learn more:
- here's the Aon Hewitt statement

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Risk pool, drug prices to shape insurers' 2016 rates