Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Opinion
Peter R. Orszag

Where the Government Can Get Better Data

Look to the private sector, Uncle Sam.
Help is needed to learn how much people spend on drugs.

Help is needed to learn how much people spend on drugs.

Photographer: Phil Walter/Getty Images

As the world grows ever better at gathering and making use of data, the question arises: Might the measurements and statistics that private businesses accumulate be used to help government statistical agencies that are under increasing budget pressure? Two recent studies suggest they can.

One of these, from Express Scripts, an online pharmacy, examined patients with extremely high prescription drug costs. Surprisingly high, really; I'd been aware that drug spending is concentrated, but until I read this study I hadn't realized quite how much. In 2014, the top 5 percent of patients ranked by drug costs accounted for more than 60 percent of total drug spending, the Express Scripts analysis found. Spending on the bottom 80 percent of people was less than 10 percent of the total.