Prescription drug spending growth slowed more sharply than growth of any other health care service, increasing 10.7 percent in 2003, compared with 14.9 percent in 2002, the federal government said in an annual health care report.
Increased consumption of cheaper generics was partly behind the trend as was the fallout from the switch of Schering-Plough's allergy drug Claritin to over-the-counter status, a move that took both the big-selling medication and its cheaper generic copycats out of the pool of prescriptions.
Retail sales of prescription drugs totaled 179.2 billion in 2003, according to the report. Although drug sales increased more slowly than in 2002, they are still growing faster than overall national health spending, said the report, published in the journal Health Affairs.
The pace of national health spending grew slower in 2003 but overall health-care spending reached $1.7 trillion and topped 15 percent of the gross domestic product for the first time.
Total health spending rose 7.7 percent in 2003, compared with an increase of 9.3 percent the year before, due to state cutbacks in Medicaid and the slower increase in drug spending.