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Do we really need wrinkle cream?

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, November 5, 2012
Posted: 5 pm ET

Be sure to factor the cost of looking and feeling young into your retirement planning because the drugs that prime the fountain of youth aren't cheap.

Express Scripts, one of the largest pharmacy management companies in the U.S., studied the cost of prescription drugs that help improve quality of life among those who are getting older. Think Cialis -- a drug advertised so widely that you can't watch TV without knowing what it does and how it treats a problem that certainly isn't life-threatening.

"These drugs treat conditions that have been medicalized in the last 20 years. Before that, they were considered normal conditions related to aging," says Reethi Iyengar, senior manager of health services research for Express Scripts.

The study focused on the increase in usage and the rising cost of prescription drugs that treat:

  • Noninfectious urinary symptoms, especially incontinence.
  • Mental alertness (not dementia).
  • Hormone replacement therapy.
  • Insomnia.
  • Aging skin.
  • Hair loss.
  • Sexual dysfunction.

In 2011, the study found that Express Scripts' privately insured customers were spending an average of $73.33 per year per patient on these kinds of drugs. That is more than the $62.84 average per year that they were spending on drugs to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, and only slightly less than the $78.38 spent treating high cholesterol or the $81.12 spent treating diabetes.

From 2006 through 2011, spending on anti-aging drugs by Express Scripts' clients that manage private insurance plans rose 46 percent, while utilization on anti-aging drugs by Express Scripts' Medicare-funded clients rose 32 percent.

Frivolous expenses?

The study didn't come right out and say that these drugs shouldn't be covered by insurers or Medicare, but it did raise some sticky questions that anyone thinking about ways to control health care costs should also consider. The study suggested that if people spend all their money on drugs to treat normal aging, they may not have enough left over for more critical health needs. It also speculated that a system like Medicare that devotes large amounts of money to treat age-related ailments might be forced to reduce what it spends on other, more serious health problems if there were a funding shortage.

"We're not saying that payment for these drugs should be eliminated, but these trends indicate a potential need for utilization management programs and cost-containment strategies," Iyengar says.

In other words, when times are tough and money for retirement is in short supply, do we really need to spend what we have on items such as wrinkle creams and hair-loss treatments?

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November 14, 2012 at 1:53 pm

And so the age related cuts begin...

November 06, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I think the attitude of the article (and some people) is a little harsh. I can't imagine that anybody commenting here would want their own incontinence to go untreated. And what treatment is the "aging skin" getting that is covered by medicare? My guess would be it's treatment for rashes and sores -- not wrinkle cream. I would suggest doing more research before jumping on this bandwagon.

November 06, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Well, I guess my peers have decided that while the blood pressure may kill them, they'll look great in that casket. I'll take my meds, use OTC stuff for the wrinkles and age as gracefully as I can. Seems 'wrong' somehow that wrinkle creams or other things that 'they' used to just 'write off as aging' have joined the list of drugs that are required for 'mental health.'??? how do they justify some things? (rhetorical - I get it - just continue to be surprised)

November 06, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I want to know where they get their average dollar amount per person per year. My high blood pressure pills cost me that much per month with my Caremark co-pay.

November 06, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Items that may help medically may be a legitimate expense, in my opinion. Vanity items is a no-no with my tax dollars. Medicare is to costly as it is.
Also, check on doctors who perform questionable surgery. I would start with the State of Florida to check on surgeons working on medicare persons.

November 06, 2012 at 4:07 pm

There is quite a mix here between what may have a genuine medical necessity and what is vanity. Insomnia can have a very detrimental effect on health status, and treating insomnia may be an essential part of a medical regimen. Incontinence can also be more than a social embarassment as products such as adult diapers can lead to rashes and UTIs in those susceptible. As there are many products that should be covered and are not, such as hearing aids, the elderly already have a lot of out of pocket health costs. Further, the movement to put more and more drugs on OTC status further limits insurance and Medicare coverage.

gail williams
November 06, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Wrinkle cream, hair loss, fake nails,fake implants of all kind is unnecessary just because people are vain and board. Look what happens when botox goes wrong. I'd rather have a few wrinkles than look like twisted monster. Enter.. higher prices for people on social security,etc.

November 06, 2012 at 3:41 pm

HRT - Hormone Replacement Therapy has almost saved my life. Having been forced to have a hysterectomy due to health issues years prior to reaching natural menopause, I was bombarded with terrible discomfort and health issues including severe depression, unyielding insomnia, constant headaches and forgetfulness among other issues. Since I do not have insurance and cannot afford a medicine cabinet full of pharmaceuticals, this one miracle drug - HRT - relieved all of the symptoms I was suffering from. I intend to stay on it as long as possible. BTW I am in extremely good shape for a woman my age, exercise vigorously, watch my diet, etc. For most woman, the dangers of HRT are exceedingly exaggerated. I would recommend it completely. As far as erectile dysfunction and all that other male stuff - I have found it is just cheaper (and better) to find a younger man !! Thanks HRT !!!!!