It is important to understand how a society's demographic characteristics affect health care expenditures, and to isolate such characteristics—such as increasing longevity—from others that affect health spending. This Commonwealth Fund–supported study examines prescription drug utilization and expenditures in British Columbia from 1996 to 2002.
What the Study Found
Among both men and women, the average age-specific drug expenditures in 1996 and 2002 increased by about 3.5 percent for each year of age from 35 to 65. Spending actually fell for individuals after age 80. But population aging explained only 1 percentage point of the growth in drug expenditures; most of the increase can be explained by the rise in drug expenditures among all age groups/sexes owing to the greater number of prescriptions issued and changes in the mix of pharmaceuticals.
The author concludes that, since demographic change is responsible for relatively little of the observed increase in drug spending in British Columbia, "the sustainability of drug spending therefore depends not on outside forces but on decisions made by policy makers, prescribers, and patients."