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The large sums of money spent on advertising prescription drugs directly to consumers may have contributed to increased use by Medicare beneficiaries and driven up spending by the federal health care program, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The analysis found Medicare Parts B and D, as well as beneficiaries, spent $560 billion on medicines from 2016 through 2018. More than half of that spending — $324 billion — went to purchasing drugs that were advertised directly to consumers. Of the 553 advertised drugs, the GAO found that Medicare Parts B and D purchased 104 and 463 drugs, respectively.


Meanwhile, Part D drugs that were advertised accounted for most of spending for drugs, or 57% of $265 billion, while Part B drugs that were advertised amounted to 64% of $59 billion in spending. However, the GAO noted that the Part D spending total does not take into account rebates and other discounts offered by drug makers and can vary considerably for different medicines.

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