Trends in price for topical corticosteroids from 2017 to 2021 and the opportunity for cost savings identifiable at the point of care: A retrospective cross-sectional study

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Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology


BACKGROUND: Topical corticosteroids possess numerous generics and similar-strength substitutes. Affordability can impact obtaining the medication prescribed.

OBJECTIVE: To determine recent trends in topical corticosteroid pricing and potential for cost saving.

METHODS: A retrospective cross-sectional study analyzing all prescriptions dispensed for topical corticosteroids from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2021, using a US all-payer pharmacy-claims database and commercial coupon dataset, was performed.

RESULTS: Two hundred thirty-seven unique drug products (≥1 claim) were identified. Factors that predicted for higher cost (P < .05) were branded products (105% more expensive than generics) and ultrapotent class (55% more expensive than low potency) while ointments predicted for lower cost (19% less expensive than creams). Cash prices remained relatively stable, except for ultrapotent branded topical corticosteroids (63% increase). Cost savings were available for both brand-to-generic ($14.75 per unit) and generic-to-generic ($6.82 per unit) switching. Coupon prices were consistently lower than cash prices (r = 0.89).

LIMITATIONS: Contracted rates through insurance plans were not included.

CONCLUSIONS: Topical corticosteroid prices over the past 5 years have stabilized, the exception being branded ultrapotent corticosteroids. Savings from switching among similar-strength substitutes remain significant despite price stabilization. Coupon prices mirror the hierarchy of cash prices and can help assess real-time costs.

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ePub ahead of print