Per-Prescription Drug Expenditure by Source of Payment and Income Level in the United States, 1997 to 2015 [Editor's Choice]



To evaluate expenditures and sources of payment for prescription drugs in the United States from 1997 to 2015.


The Medical Expenditures Panel Survey (MEPS) was used for this analysis. Individuals with one or more prescription medicines were eligible for inclusion. Outcomes were the inflation-adjusted cost per prescription across all payment sources (self or family, public, private, and other sources) before and after the Medicare Part D benefit and the Affordable Care Act.


The cost per prescription increased from $38.56 in 1997 to $73.34 in 2015. Nevertheless, consumers’ out-of-pocket expenditures decreased from $18.19 to $9.61, whereas public program expenditures per prescription increased from $5.61 to $34.43 over this time. Out-of-pocket expenditures of individuals in the low-income group and near-poor group had larger declined percentages from 51.4% to 20.4% and 46.5% to 17.2% relative to individuals in higher-income groups before and after implementation of the Medicare Part D, respectively. Over 90% prescription purchases were covered by medical insurance by 2015. The per-prescription cost for medications consumed by uninsured individuals increased at a lower rate from $31.83 to $54.96 versus $40.12 to $75.58 for privately insured and $36.00 to $70.96 for publicly insured (P .001).


Prescription drugs expenditures have increased over the past 2 decades, but public sources now pay for a growing proportion of prescription drugs cost regardless of health insurance coverage or income level. Out-of-pocket expenditures have significantly decreased for persons with lower incomes since the implementation of Medicare Part D and the Affordable Care Act.


Wenxi Tang Jing Xie Fanxin Kong Daniel C. Malone

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