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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 06, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Who are these people who think controlling incontenence, dementia etc. are frivolous expenses and do they know that many of us who receive Medicare still have to pay for our own medications? Also how many of these people know that many of us have other insurances that we pay for that cover our medications but are forced to have Medicare as our primary insurance. Most private insurances demand that you enroll in Medicare when you reach the age of eligibility or they will not cover you. This is why Medicare (The government) must pick up the bill for 80% of the medical bills for many seniors who have other insurances that get away with only paying 20% (Minus co-pays and deductibles) of our medical bills. Instead of complaining about how much medicare must pay for for senior care lets do something about this situation.

November 06, 2012 at 1:39 pm

If America's seniors in the midst of immense national debt, an impending financial cliff, the longest unemployment crisis in 50 years and the worse economy in over half a century are demanding that other folks be forced to pay not just for their essential or critical medical support but for stuff to make them feel a little better about being old then America is just about finished.

Reminds me of Marie Antoinette's response to a question concerning what should be done about the starving in France just before the Revolution: "Let them eat cake."

Gotta be the growing number of self centered "baby boomer" seniors and not those selfless, self sacrificing and courageous ones from the diminishing number of "the greatest generation."

November 06, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I am a senior citizen. I have done and will continue to do everything in my power to remain and stay healthy inluding diet and exercise. It is my responsibility. We live in tough times and cannot expect the government to take care of medications that are not really necessary. If we need these we should pay for them ourselves. Especially items for aging skin, hairloss and sexual dysfunction. These are optional. Let's take responsibility for ourselves!

Chas. Carlin
November 06, 2012 at 1:35 pm

What about personal responsibility? I'm 90, and I look it and act it. I am what I am. So?

Nelson Jones
November 06, 2012 at 1:34 pm

So,lets all just suffer quietly so the insurers have sufficient funds available for larger bonuses, more luxuries company retreats and most importantly, more starter mansions.

And who would watch the watchdogs? "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. The insurance equivalent of a death panel, isn't it?

And all of this despite the fact my employer and I pay prime rates to insure that treatment would be available.

November 06, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Apparently this study was done by a male. If he were only able to get 1 or 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night because of hot flashes he would probably be looking for grant money to find a cure.

November 06, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Most of these drugs are necessary. But, aging skin and hair loss is just a part of the aging process and should not be covered by insurance. If your that vain, pay for it. I'm a nurse in a doctor's office and cannot believe all the male patient's on medications for sexual dysfuntion. They are happy to tell you that they really have no problem. But the medications give them an advantage. That's nice, medicare will not pay for eye glasses or hearing aids. So, you can have all the sex you want! You may not be able to hear what is going on, or see who your having sex with,but that's ok!

November 06, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I to have IBS and Bladder spasms. If you had it you would not think medicine for this was a frivolous expense. Besides I have to pay for my medicine. Medicare does not pay one penny for it. I would not eat before not getting my meds because the pain is so great. Also if you have ever not been able to sleep at night for days because you have to spend most of the night in the bathroom maybe you would think differently about what you are indicating. What do you want the people with these problems to do, Stay at home and wait to die even if the rest of your body is healthy?

November 06, 2012 at 1:14 pm

yes lol when you become senoir citizen sex is innecassary? correct? How about when you turn 60 the government just puts you down like a dog... about the only 1 that could be considered frivolous is anti-aging cream The insurance medical companies are as bad as Wall Street (which our government did Nothing about!) I've also found it odd that Canada (and the rest of the world) has access to lower priced drugs, and its illegal for Americans to purchase them. This country is going down the tubes!

November 06, 2012 at 1:14 pm

What a sad commentary! I quess whoever authored this study and opinion felt that "aging in pain" without dignity or quality of life was an acceptable option. It is not! It is odd that a pharmaceutical company ventured into these waters