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2016 Year in Review: Good News, Bad News, and Looking Ahead to 2017

by Elizabeth Davis on December 28, 2016 at 6:00 am

As we exit 2016, we can only be certain about one fact regarding the future of health care coverage in America: big changes are ahead. Our healthcare was one of the biggest issues in a bitter Presidential campaign, and President-elect Trump has repeatedly said that he plans to replace Obamacare with something else. We’ll see what that something else is soon.

As politicians fought about the best ways to solve America’s health care challenges, we all suffered. Insurance premiums went up and also provided less coverage. Prices for many brand drugs continued their steady march upwards. There was some good news—exciting new treatments, and a bunch of expensive drugs became available as generics—but in general, 2016 was a painful year, and the prognosis for 2017 isn’t much better.

Here’s a recap.

1. More drugs lost insurance coverage.

The two largest prescription insurance companies, Express Scripts and Caremark, dropped coverage for 40 popular drugs in 2016. Most notably, medications like the popular insulin Lantus, and venlafaxine ER (Effexor XR) for depression have been dropped by Caremark. Express Scripts dropped Taltz for psoriasis, and Orencia for rheumatoid arthritis, among others, and Viekira Pak now has only limited coverage. Insurers are also restricting coverage for many of the expensive (but effective) hepatitis C drugs like Zepatier and Olysio, leaving only Sovaldi and Harvoni as options.

Overall, Caremark will be far more restrictive this year, with a total of 130 drugs excluded from coverage. In contrast, Express Scripts will only have 85 drugs excluded in 2017.

New for 2017—Caremark is dropping coverage based on excluding what they call “hyperinflationary drugs” or drugs that have seen a massive increase in cost. Think EpiPen, Alcortin A, and others you may have seen in the news this year.

Want more information? You can find details and the full list of dropped drugs here. You can also find the Express Scripts formulary here, and Caremark’s formulary here.

2. Even more drugs went generic in 2016. Yay!

There is good news! A number of drugs went generic this year, meaning that more expensive brand name medications now have cheaper alternatives. In some instances, filling a generic instead of a brand can mean a difference of hundreds of dollars, whether you’re insured or paying cash. So this is good news for your healthcare wallet!

Here some of the major drugs that got generic alternatives in 2016:

  • Gleevec (imatinib), an expensive specialty medication used to treat multiple types of cancer, went generic in February. Although the generic, imatinib, is still expensive, it does offer savings over the brand. This is a big deal—Gleevec has been very effective, and a lower cost generic will make it more accessible.
  • Glumetza (metformin ER) is a popular drug used to treat type II diabetes that went generic in February. Glumetza is similar to the other type II diabetes drug Fortamet (also metformin ER), but they differ slightly in how they deliver the drug. You can read more about their similarities and differences here. Also—keep in mind that Glucophage XR has had a less-expensive generic for a few years now, and is still significantly cheaper than Glumetza or Fortamet.
  • Enablex (darifenacin ER), for overactive bladder, went generic in March 2016. Although the generic, darifenacin ER, is on the pricey side, it will save consumers hundreds over the brand name.
  • Nasonex (mometasone) is a popular corticosteroid used to decrease inflammation in the nose and treat the symptoms of allergies. Nasonex’s generic, mometasone, was approved in March.
  • Crestor (rosuvastatin) is a major brand that got a generic alternative in April 2016. Crestor had been dropped by many insurance plans, but with the introduction of a generic alternative, consumers have been able to save big at the pharmacies for this popular statin.
  • Epzicom (abacavir/lamivudine) is an antiretroviral used to treat HIV. Its generic, abacavir/lamivudine became available in October, offering huge savings.
  • Benicar (olmesartan) is another major brand that became available as a generic drug this year. Benicar is a popular medication used to treat high blood pressure, and its generic, olmesartan (available only in tablet form) offers consumers a pretty substantial discount.

3. Insurance costs are going up.

You may have heard that Obamacare (Affordable Care Act or ACA) plan premiums are expected to climb by about 25% in 2017. Because so many insurance companies dropped out of the exchange markets this year, you can expect to pay an average monthly premium of $302, up from $242. Some companies are also raising rates because the premiums they charged initially were too low to cover the costs they faced. Many of these plans also offer limited coverage, especially for prescription drugs.

You can find more information on changes to ACA plans in 2017 here.

You can also expect to see some price increases and changes in coverage if you have a Medicare plan. More plans that ever (up to 85% in 2017) will have a preferred pharmacy network, meaning they will offer the maximum savings only at certain pharmacies. There is some good news here though—the donut hole is shrinking. You’ll owe a smaller percentage of both brand and generic drug costs while in the donut hole.

You can find more specifics on 2017 Medicare plan changes here, and on GoodRx! In May, Goodrx completed a multi-year effort to analyze Medicare drug pricing and help seniors take control of their prescriptions. Read more about it here, or compare Medicare, cash, and coupon prices on GoodRx here.

Of course, many elements the ACA will likely change in 2017 when President-elect Trump takes office . . .

4. 2016 was the year of outrageous drug prices.

The EpiPen drama exploded in the fall of 2016 as outraged parents encountered insane prices for a life-saving prescription. As you may have heard, Mylan, the makers of EpiPen, have raised prices for the lifesaving drug from about $150 to $600 since 2011. There is good news on the horizon though: Mylan has discussed creating a generic alternative to Epipen, and a less expensive epinephrine auto-injector, Auvi-Q, which should return to the market soon.

Insulin prices also continue to increase, with popular options like Lantus, Humalog, and Novolog increasing by around $150 per carton since 2013. This may hit some of you especially hard with Caremark’s decision not to cover Lantus next year.

Some other sky high drug prices continue to include Daraprim, Sovaldi and other hepatitis C drugs, and treatments for very rare conditions like hereditary angioedema (HAE).

What’s in store for 2017?

As you know, Donald Trump is our new president-elect. There are almost definitely changes in prescription and health care costs, and the future of ACA plans is in question. Stay tuned!

There will be more generics released- especially near the end of the 2017. Though none of these are guaranteed, popular drugs like Viagra (sildenafil) for erectile dysfunction, Truvada (emtricitaboine/tenofovir) for HIV treatment, and the expensive epinephrine auto-injector EpiPen (epinephrine) may see more generic alternatives in 2017.

One thing we can all be sure of—it’ll be more important than ever for Americans to be smart healthcare consumers, and GoodRx will be there to help!

Happy holidays and have a happy, healthy new year!


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