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The Anti-Aging Business

Published November 21, 2012 12:17 PM by Brian Garavaglia
The market for so called anti-aging medications continues to increase. In fact, it has increased so steadily in recent years that the amount spent on these forms of medicines is equal to what is spent on medications for chronic care conditions. Costs for medications addressing aging concerns have increased significantly for those individuals covered under private insurance as compared to those covered under Medicare. 

The findings on this subject were presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting. Researches evaluated pharmacy claims related to seven age related medical issues. The seven processes studied were urinary symptoms (noninfection), mental alertness/memory issues, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), insomnia, sexual dysfunction, skin aging, and hair loss. What emerged was a startling number of costs that are now being incurred on these issues. 

The study found that from 2007 to 2011, the average cost per patient for pharmaceuticals that were prescribed for them increased by 46% for those that had private insurance coverage, while the increase among the Medicare population was much more modest, increasing by only 1.3%. Yet, the annual use per patient increased substantially for both groups with an 18.5% increase in annual use found among the privately insured, and a 32%increase found among the Medicare population. The greatest increase in the Medicare group "increased nearly 25 times that of the cost," said lead author Reethi Iyengar.  This is probably due to those in the Medicare group generally being older. Moreover, in 2009, claims for anti-aging pharmaceuticals reached its peak among Medicare patients, with total annual costs per patient reaching $105.26. 

HRT and urinary symptoms were two of the top three conditions that were covered by both Medicare and private insurance in 2011. For Medicare, the third most commonly addressed issue pharmaceutically was insomnia. HRT, urinary symptoms and insomnia also accounted for 84.6% of total spending on age-related issues. Medications prescribed for alertness and memory issues accounted for 76.8 percent of the total spending for private insurance.  

The American Public Health Association stated that the annual cost per patient in 2011 for pharmaceuticals prescribed for age-related conditions that were covered under Medicare and private insurance amounted to $73.33. The average cost for these medications was higher than the average cost for blood pressure and heart medications, which was $62.84, and just slightly less than the average cost for high cholesterol and diabetes medications, which were $78.38 and $81.12 respectively. 

The trend driving this shift toward greater utilization of medications to treat age-related issues is not known. However, we should recognize that many of these conditions do not require pharmaceutical intervention for the preservation of life. Urinary symptoms, such as those that accompany benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), lead to certain levels of discomfort, but this problem was formerly recognized as something that one has to live with as they grow older. HRT, for women and increasingly now for men, does not necessarily lead to a level of medical exigency that deems pharmaceutical intervention. Insomnia has been a problem among older adults, but often extended use of pharmaceutics for this problem can paradoxically lead to greater sleep issues. Sexual dysfunctions have been problems that often accompany aging, and sex is certainly an enjoyable part of life that many look forward to, including the elderly. However, the pharmacy industry also recognizes this, which has led to incredibly high markups of many sexual medications. Skin and hair loss products, far from often addressing any medical issue, are often more related to the aesthetic needs that humans have for forestalling any outward manifestations of aging. Finally, mental alertness/memory may be the only major medical issue of the top seven that does need aggressive pharmaceutical intervention, especially when one considers the exigent needs that proper cognitive functioning entails.   

The study itself was not meant to cast any judgment on whether these medications should be used at the current level that they are being prescribed. It is definitely an enhancement to the daily standard of living to have many of these medications available.  However, one must wonder if their use may not be excessive, especially when their use and cost is often exceeding the costs of many medications that are being used to treat chronic conditions, and often to treat conditions for the preservation of life.  Many conditions can be improved through such things as changes in diet, exercise and weight loss

Furthermore, due to the increased demand that is being created, one has to question whether culturally created pharmacological dependency for medication induced quick relief of any problem may actually be leading to more harm than good. Since on average older adults take more medication than any other age groups, and since taking more medication can potentially lead to side-effects and problems of medication interaction, one has to question whether it is wise to add more medication that may not be medically necessary and can lead to a compounding  potential for interaction effects to occur among older adults.  Moreover, are we enhancing a demand for many products in which the marginal utility is really quite slim for the older adult, while creating an overall cost to an already burgeoning health care system that ultimately leads to greater levels of inflation in an already inflated system? 

The current study did not address any of these questions. However, it did provide evidence of a trend that we need to keep our eyes on, especially in evaluating the cost and benefit of these medications for the elderly and the overall cost that it ultimately adds to our health care system.   


Melville, N.A. (2012/Nov 13). Demand soars for anti-aging medications. Medscape.


posted by Brian Garavaglia


Great stuff.I love this article

catherina lucy March 7, 2013 6:58 AM

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About this Blog

    Brian Garavaglia, PhD
    Occupation: Long-term care administrator
    Setting: Sterling Heights, Mich.
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