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Spending On Drugs and Other Health Services to Treat High Cholesterol Has Increased 350 Percent

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AHRQ News and Numbers

Release date: February 15, 2006

Medical spending to treat hyperlipidemia, a group of conditions that includes high cholesterol and other lipid disorders, increased 350 percent from $4 billion in 1996 to a total of $18 billion in 2003, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Estimates from AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) also show that:

  • The number of Americans who were reported to have expenditures to treat hyperlipidemia nearly tripled—from 7.3 million in 1996 to 21.6 million in 2003.
  • Private health insurers, government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and patients paid for the health services used to treat hyperlipidemia, primarily prescribed medications and visits to doctors' offices and outpatient clinics.
  • Statins, one class of prescribed medications used to treat hyperlipidemia, accounted for about 90 percent of the drug expenditures to treat this condition in 2003.
  • From 1996 to 2003, the proportion of the Medicare population who used at least one statin during the year increased over 250 percent from 8.3 percent to 29.7 percent.
  • By 2003, the two top-selling drugs in the United States (ranked by expenditures) were statins. Total expenditures for Lipitor® (Atorvastatin), the top-selling drug, were $7.8 billion, while expenditures for ZOCOR® (Simvastatin) totaled $5.5 billion.
  • AHRQ data also indicate that, in terms of health care expenditures, heart disease and trauma were the most costly medical conditions in 2003.

MEPS collects information each year from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households about health care use, expenses, access, health status and quality. MEPS is a unique government survey because of the degree of detail in its data, as well as its ability to link data on health services spending and health insurance to demographic, employment, economic, health status, and other characteristics of individuals and families.

This AHRQ News and Numbers is based on statistics found online in the MEPS Compendia of Tables. To access these data go to

For more information, or to speak with an AHRQ expert regarding MEPS data, please contact Marion Torchia at or at (301) 427-1399.


The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


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