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As Part D Medicare Nears, Five Drug Classes Dominate Spending by the Elderly

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AHRQ News and Numbers

Release date: November 9, 2005

In 2003, Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older in the U.S civilian noninstitutionalized population spent a total of $43.8 billion on the top five outpatient prescription drug classes when ranked by total expenses, according to the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

  • Spending on these top five drug classes represents 74 percent of the $59.4 billion total spending on prescription drugs by elderly Americans on Medicare.
  • Cardiovascular drug expenses totaled $15 billion, making them the top-ranked therapeutic drug class in terms of overall spending for Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older in the U.S civilian noninstitutionalized population.
  • The four other most costly drug classes prescribed for elderly Medicare beneficiaries not residing in nursing homes were:
    • Statins and other cholesterol-reducing drugs—$8.8 billion.
    • Hormones—$7.8 billion.
    • Pain relievers and other central nervous system drugs—$6.8 billion.
    • Drugs for gastrointestinal problems—$5.5 billion.
  • For all age groups, total outpatient prescription drug expenses for the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population in 2003 was $177.7 billion.

These findings were generated from new data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) HC-077A: 2003 Prescribed Medicines File. The data are available at:


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