16 Prescription Drugs That Cost More Than a Car
Prescription drugs cost patients plenty, but the most expensive among them can be as much per year as a car (an average $35,411, according to automotive site Kelley Blue Book). In some cases, health insurance won't even help with the cost. Single-payer health care in other countries puts a greater burden on U.S. consumers and insurers, and research and development costs help drive up drug prices. But so does a lack of competition, generic or otherwise, and advertising expenses of more than $5 billion a year, which is why you should never let glossy ads guide your medication. With help from GoodRx, we found 16 drugs that cost patients as much as they'd pay for cars, trucks or SUVs outright.
What it treats: Osteoporosis and chronic granulomatous disease
Cost: $52,321 a month or $627,852 a year
Granulomatous disease is a rare disorder that causes the immune system to malfunction, and why Horizon Pharma can charge so much for its Actimmune. Patients typically take it three times a week, going through 12 single-use vials a month at $4,360 a vial. That's equivalent to buying a Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV every month.
What it treats: Batten disease
Cost: $58,500 a month or $702,000 a year
This drug treats a brain disorder that maker BioMarin estimates affects just shy of 20 infants each year. That makes insurers more willing to pay, but those who rely on Medicaid or other government programs will still pay nearly $500,000 for a year's supply, with no cheaper options available. You could buy a Porsche 718 Boxster Convertible every month for a year and still spend less.
What it treats: Hereditary angioedema
Cost: $44,140 a month or $529,680 a year
What manufacturer Shire bills for a one-month supply (16 vials) could buy a 392-horsepower Dodge Challenger every month and still save a bit. That price is so lofty because hereditary angioedema — a genetic condition that causes swelling in parts of the body including hands, face, and throat — is incredibly rare and life-threatening.
What it treats: Gallstones
Cost: $42,570 a month or $510,840 a year
There are far cheaper options out there, like Ursodiol at $30 to $45 a month, but manufacturer Retrophin hiked the price of this one fivefold per pill back in 2014 when a guy named Martin Shkreli was in charge. Chenodal is off patent and technically should be available as an affordable generic, but it's protected under a "closed distribution system" that prevents generic drug makers from buying a brand-name drug. That helps keep its monthly cost just under the equivalent of buying a BMW X3 SUV each month.
What it treats: Leptin deficiency in patients with generalized lipodystrophy
Cost: $42,137 a month or $505,644 a year
Myalept is the only option for treating this rare disease, which prevents the body from producing and maintaining healthy fat tissue. With no cheaper options available, this treatment of 10 vials per month monopolizes the market, an "orphan drug" that won't yield a generic any time soon and keeps its monthly price at roughly that of an Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
What it treats: Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, infantile spasms, ophthalmic conditions, psoriatic arthritis, other conditions
Cost: $38,892 a month or $466,704 a year
Corticotrophin, this drug's active ingredient, has been used since the 1950s and cost as little as $40 a month back in 2001. The version Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals got approved in 2010 runs nearly $39,000 for a vial. That's about as much as a Jaguar E-Pace SUV.
What it treats: Homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia
Cost: $36,992 a month or $443,904 a year
The more rare the condition, the more expensive the drug. Aegerion makes Juxtapid to treat a gene mutation that leads to cardiovascular disease, with patients typically taking 28 capsules monthly for an annual price just slightly higher than buying a 12-vehicle fleet of GMC Sierra 2500HD Dual Cab pickup trucks. Another treatment available, Kynamro sells for $26,617 a month.
What it treats: Hereditary angioedema
Cost: $32,468 a month or $389,616 a year
Like Cinryze, Firazyr is made by Shire for this same disease. Unlike Cinryze, which prevents swelling before an attack, Firazyr is used after an attack. With patients suffering an average two to four attacks monthly, most fill one carton (three syringes) of Fyrazyr every month for the price of a Kia Soul EV.
What it treats: Hepatitis C
Cost: $31,500 a month or $94,500 a year
Hepatitis C treatments are generally costly, but this is the first once-daily combination treatment, and many insurance plans stopped covering it in 2016. Patients typically take Harvoni for 12 weeks, and a one-month supply costs roughly as much as a Nissan Pathfinder.
What it treats: Wilson's disease
Cost: $31,426 a month or $377,112 a year
Cupramine has been around since the 1970s and prevents copper buildup in patients with Wilson's disease. Congress has lashed out at maker Valeant for keeping the cost of the drug as high as that of a Ford Mustang Convertible simply because it can.
What it treats: Hepatitis C
Cost: $28,000 a month or $84,000 a year
We told you Hep C drugs were expensive. Gilead makes Havroni and Sovaldi, but most insurers don't cover either anymore. For a slight price cut, Sovaldi can be taken for 12 weeks at $1,000 per tablet. That monthly price would buy you a Kia Niro plug-in hybrid for each month of treatment.
What it treats: Blood cancer
Cost: $12,333 per month or $147,996 a year
Scientists figured out you could cut the cost of this drug by taking one pill a day instead of the originally prescribed three. The makers, Janssen and Pharmacyclics, got wind of this, changed the format and tripled the cost of a dose. While insurance and Medicare cover the cost of the drug, out-of-pocket costs under Medicare double from $5,000 a year for the cost of a one-capsule dose to nearly $10,000. The total is equal either to the cost of buying one Mercedes-Benz S-Class AMG S63 or 12 Nissan Versa sedans.
What it treats: Toxoplasmosis, pneumonia, other infections
Cost: $750 per pill, $75,000 per course of treatment (100 pills)
First used in 1953, Daraprim was selling for $13.50 a pill as recently as 2015 and was used by patients with HIV to ward off infection. Turing Pharmaceutical, capitalizing on a growing market for older "orphan drugs" used by smaller populations, bought the drug and raised the price — Martin Shkreli again. There are other, lower-cost options such as Bactrim (as little as $4 for 20 tablets), but those who still want a treatment that costs roughly as much as a base-model Jaguar XJ have to hope insurance will pay for much of it.
What it treats: Periodic paralysis and glaucoma
Cost: $109,500 a year
This drug cost $50 for 100 pills in 2001 when it was a glaucoma drug named Daranide, but was discontinued by drug company Merck. It was picked up by another small drug company, which used its approval for periodic paralysis in 2015 to enforce exclusive marketing rights and jack up the price to more than $13,000 for 100 pills. The company started giving it away under pressure in 2016, but the drug was bought by yet another company that raised the price to $15,001 for 100. The rarity of the disease, suffered by 5,000 people in the United States, helps drugmaker Strongbridge justify the price, a little higher than a base-model Maserati Quattroporte Sedan.
What it treats: Duchenne muscular dystrophy
Cost: $89,000 a year
It wasn't approved for U.S. use until last year, but the roughly 15,000 residents affected by the condition could get the drug from other countries for an average $1,200 a year. The drug company that won approval for it last year gets seven years of exclusive U.S. marketing rights, even though Emflaza is available elsewhere as a generic. That lets it charge slightly more than the cost of a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class convertible.
What it treats: Anemia caused by chronic kidney disease or chemotherapy
Cost: $26,400 a year
The average midsize car costs $25,846, according to Kelley Blue Book, which makes this anemia drug the equivalent of a loaded Toyota Camry. There are cheaper versions out there, but you'd have to get your doctor to write you a new prescription if you're already taking this one.
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