Government analysts say some of the recent increases in U.S. drug spending may be due to factors beyond the drug companies’ control.

The analysts, at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), looked at the reasons for rising drug spending in a new report.

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U.S. residents spent about $457 billion on prescription drugs in 2015, or about 2.4 percent of 2015 U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), the ASPE analysts estimate.

About $328 billion of that total went to drug stores. Doctors, hospitals and other health care providers received $128 billion for delivering prescription drugs through non-retail channels.

In 2010, U.S. residents spent $356 billion, or 2.4 percent of GDP, on prescription drugs, with $256 billion going to retail providers and $100 billion spent in non-retail settings. 

Between 2010 and 2014, roughly 60 percent of the $101 billion increase in spending was due to increases in drug prices, a shift toward patient use of higher-priced drugs, or an increase in the number of drugs prescribed per person, the analysts say.

Thirty percent of the increase was due to economy-wide inflation, and 10 percent was the result of population growth, the report estimates.

The share of high-cost “specialty drugs” as a percentage of all retail drug spending appears to vary widely from year to year, and the results of that kind of analysis depend heavily on which drugs an analyst chooses to classify as specialty drugs, the analysts say.

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Specialty drugs: A primer

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