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Express Scripts Reduces Employers' Annual Prescription Drug Spending Growth Rate to Historic Low in 2017

February 6, 2018 at 10:59 AM EST

ST. LOUIS, Feb. 6, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- At a time when consumers, businesses and policymakers are intensely focused on reducing prescription drug costs, Express Scripts (NASDAQ: ESRX) helped employers reduce the rate of growth in per-person prescription drug spending to 1.5 percent in 2017, according to the 2017 Express Scripts Drug Trend Report released today.  While this growth rate is the lowest Express Scripts has measured since 1993, there is more to be done to make prescription medications more affordable for working families, seniors and the disabled.

Express Scripts, St. Louis, Missouri. (PRNewsfoto/Express Scripts)

"Express Scripts is committed to delivering innovative solutions that help our clients actively manage their pharmacy benefit to drive better outcomes and lower costs," said Express Scripts President & CEO Tim Wentworth. "While others offer vague promises of future savings, programs such as our SafeguardRx® solutions delivered greater value for the money our clients and members spent on medications for costly conditions, such as diabetes and cancer. However, rising healthcare costs still burden too many consumers and businesses. Express Scripts pledges to continue working with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to advance a prescription drug affordability agenda that enhances our ability to reduce costs while improving access and quality." 

For plans covering employees and their families, per-person spending on prescription drugs rose 1.5 percent in 2017, less than half of the increase reported in 2016, and the lowest since we first began tracking drug spending data in 1993. Nearly half of all Express Scripts' commercial clients saw their drug spending decrease in 2017. Plans that adopted a broader variety of SafeGuardRx, specialty and other core PBM solutions saw their year-over-year drug spending decrease an average of 1.2 percent. 

Additional key findings include:

  • The share of cost per prescription paid by members in an employer-funded plan held steady, with members paying 14.3 percent of their total prescriptions costs, the same as in 2016. The average member out-of-pocket cost -- which includes deductible and copay -- for a 30-day prescription was $11.24, a 12-cent increase from 2016.
  • Spending on traditional drugs for common diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, which accounted for 59 percent of total spending, decreased about 4 percent, due primarily to a drop in unit costs of 4.9 percent, reflecting our ability to mitigate manufacturer price increases and help patients and their physicians choose effective, lower cost alternatives. Generic fill rates increased to 86 percent in 2017.
  • Year-over-year spending on specialty drugs increased 11 percent in 2017 due to increases in utilization (8 percent) and unit costs (3 percent). The increase in specialty-drug spending was mitigated significantly by our ability to get money back for treatment failures involving these complex, high-cost therapies, as we did in our Oncology and Inflammatory Conditions Care Value Programs®. This approach will be increasingly more important now that specialty medications account for nearly 41 percent of total drug spending.
  • Medicare and Medicaid plans managed by Express Scripts also saw lower growth rates in year-over-year spending, with increases of 2.3 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively.
  • Drug spending among Health Insurance Exchange plans managed by Express Scripts decreased 3.3 percent in 2017, due to a 4.2 percent reduction in unit costs and a less than 1 percent increase in utilization.

"Our people and our solutions delivered record-low increases in spending, but our work is far from done," said Mr. Wentworth. "We know many still struggle to afford their medications, and we will continue to innovate – and advocate – for those people who are challenged by their out-of-pocket costs."

In a companion report that reviews drug spending trends and public policy, Express Scripts also called on all stakeholders to act on a prescription drug affordability agenda.  Common-sense policy changes include tackling the nation's opioid addiction crisis; creating new safe harbors to encourage value-based reimbursement; and greater regulatory scrutiny of pay-for-delay settlements between biologic and biosimilar manufacturers.  This agenda builds on our detailed policy proposals from last year and which still resonate with consumers and businesses.

About the 2017 Express Scripts Drug Trend Report
Express Scripts' annual Drug Trend Report is among the industry's most comprehensive analyses of drug spending in the U.S.  The research examined the de-identified prescription drug use data of approximately 34.3 million people with a pharmacy benefit plan administered by Express Scripts, including those in an employer-funded, Medicare, Medicaid or Health Insurance Exchange plan.

To access the report, please visit

About Express Scripts
Express Scripts puts medicine within reach of tens of millions of people by aligning with plan sponsors, taking bold action and delivering patient-centered care to make better health more affordable and accessible.

Headquartered in St. Louis, Express Scripts provides integrated pharmacy benefit management services, including network-pharmacy claims processing home delivery pharmacy care, specialty pharmacy care, specialty benefit management, benefit-design consultation, drug utilization review, formulary management, and medical and drug data analysis services.  Express Scripts also distributes a full range of biopharmaceutical products and provides extensive cost-management and patient-care services

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SOURCE Express Scripts