Injured workers sought out fewer prescription drugs in 2015, but workers compensation insurers spent 2.2 percent more on drugs as a result of higher prices.
A report by Express Scripts, a benefits manager, found that the average cost of prescription medication for workers comp beneficiaries rose 4.4 percent last year, which more than made up for the fact that workers were using prescription medications 2.6 percent less than the previous year.
There were particularly big increases in the cost of specialty medications, which account for less than 1 percent of the drugs prescribed to beneficiaries. Insurers spent nearly 50 percent more on such drugs in 2015 than in 2014, at an average per-prescription cost of roughly $1,800.
Meanwhile, the study reported that spending on pricey compound medications, which cost an average of $1,769 per prescription, declined by a third last year. Express Scripts takes partial credit for this decrease, saying that its efforts to educate insurers on such medications has helped them rein in costs.
A previous report by the company said that the average cost of compound medications stood at only $90 in 2012; it attributed the rise to drug-makers, pharmacies and doctors grossly inflating the price of a drug because of the addition of substances that add no medical value.
The new report touched upon an even more significant development that appears to be in line with broader trends in medicine: Injured workers are being prescribed opioids at a significantly lower rate than in previous years.
The 11 percent decrease in opioid use meant that the average injured employee was being given 2.9 opioid prescriptions per year, down from the 2014 level of 3.3.
However, because of rises in the cost of powerful painkillers, the cost of opioid prescriptions only declined 5 percent.