In a case that highlights the absurdity of the American healthcare system, a form of progesterone that's given in a weekly shot to prevent preterm labor has shot up from $10 to $20 a dose to $1,500 per injection, or as much as $30,000 per pregnancy.
According to the Associated Press, the drug has been mixed in special pharmacies that aren't federally approved for years. In an attempt to standardize production, the Food and Drug Administration gave KV Pharmaceutical exclusive approval to sell the drug. It sounds reasonable, but since the FDA can't set drug prices, it couldn't do anything when KV Pharmaceutical unexpectedly jacked up the price of the drug, which it's marketing under the name Makena.
Since Makena was already in use, it cost KV Pharmaceutical very little in research and development. When asked to justify the outrageous price increase, Gregory J. Divis Jr., the company's chief executive, pointed out that the mental and physical disabilities associated with very premature births could cost $51,000 during a child's first year. "Makena can help offset some of those costs," he said. "These moms deserve the opportunity to have the benefits of an FDA-approved Makena." Sure, having a healthy baby is priceless, but that doesn't explain why the drug needs to be 150 times more expensive.
Doctors estimate the drug could help 130,000 women a year, but only a fraction use it. Now even fewer will. In response to public outrage over the cost of the drug, Ther-Rx Corp., the KV subsidiary marketing Makena, announced a patient assistant program that will help low-income and uninsured women get the drug at a low cost. However, someone is still going to be paying $1,500 per dose, whether it's individuals, government programs, or health insurance companies. For example, the health insurance company Aetna says it will continue to cover the drug for the 1,000 members who use it, but that will cost an addition $30 million per year. And, of course, when expenses go up, health insurance companies will pass the cost on to clients.
Time reports Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio has asked KV Pharmaceuticals to "immediately reconsider" the drug's price. She says, "By ratcheting up prices, fewer women will be able to afford the drug, increasing rates of preterm birth nationwide. This isn't in the interest of children, new mothers or taxpayers." That's exactly the problem with America's healthcare system. Unlike in other countries' systems where the main goal is to keep people healthy, here the aim is to turn a profit, even if it puts lives at risk.
Image via Firma V/Shutterstock.