The number of doctors who each prescribe millions of dollars of medications annually in Medicare's drug program has soared, driven by expensive hepatitis C treatments and rising drug prices overall, federal data obtained by ProPublica show.
The number of providers who topped the $5 million mark for prescriptions increased more than tenfold, from 41 in 2011 to 514 in 2015. The number of prescribers — mostly physicians but also nurse practitioners — exceeding $10 million in drug costs jumped from two to 70 over the same time period, according to the data.
Most of the doctors atop the spending list prescribed Harvoni or Sovaldi, relatively new drugs that cure hepatitis C. Other providers on the list prescribed pricey drugs to treat cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Medicare's drug program, known as Part D, covers more than 41 million seniors and disabled people. In 2015, it accounted for $137.4 billion in drug spending, before factoring in rebates from drug companies. That was up from $121.5 billion a year earlier.
"The trends in this space are troubling and don't show any signs of abating," said Tim Gronniger, deputy chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that runs Medicare. "It's going to be a pressure point for patients and the program for the foreseeable future."