Some women have to pay $20,000 for a $200 drug, study says

Some women are forced to pay $20,000 for a $200 life-saving drug that can help them carry their babies full-term, a new report has found.

The drug includes the hormone progestin, which reduces women’s risks of delivering babies prematurely, often resulting in fatalities and developmental complications.

But while many have access to the $200 generic version, those who do not live close to local pharmacies that dispense it are forced to pay up to $20,000 for the treatment. 

The Harvard Medical School researchers emphasized that the performances of the generic and brand-name versions of the drug are about the same.

Experts warn the study is an indication as to why the nation struggles to pay for healthcare and the rising costs of prescription drugs in the US.

Makena is a brand-name version of a drug that can help women carry babies to term. The generic version of the drug costs $200 while brand-name versions such as this can cost patients up to $20,000 (file photo)


The hormone that helps women carry babies to term provides a host of health benefits for both men and women.

Progestin can:

  • regulate women’s menstrual cycles
  • boost the chances of a woman who is trying to conceive via an egg donor getting pregnant
  • lessen pain that is linked to endometriosis
  • treat breast, kidney and uterus cancer patients

According to the CDC, babies that are born prematurely can experience the following problems:

  • Difficulty feeding
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Developmental delay
  • Hearing complications
  • Vision problems
  • Cerebral palsy

For the study researchers analyzed insurance claims from about 3,800 privately-covered patients that were filed from January 1, 2008, to December 31, 2015.

The report found that more than 3,300 were prescribed the generic version of the drug, which is compounded in local pharmacies, while 535 women had to buy the brand-name version.

The researchers also concluded that were all 133,000 women in the US who qualify for the drug to receive the generic, it would cost the nation $27.5million annually.

However, if those women had to pay for the brand-name version, the price would skyrocket to $1.4billion each year, adding to the growing burden of the cost of prescription drugs on the US healthcare system.

And the researchers said that both drugs performed roughly the same: the rate of preterm births among women who took the brand-name drug was 23.9 percent which was compared to the rate for those who took the generic, 25.2 percent.

The cost of prescription drugs came to $457billion in 2015, the US Department of Health and Human Services has said. The study warned that the figure is supposed to grow over the next five years.

Experts are cautioning that this is a prime example of why healthcare is out of reach for hordes of people in the US.

Study author Andrew Beam said: ‘Everyone is talking about how to pay for healthcare, but few talk about why healthcare in the United States is so expensive.’ He added: ‘Uncontrollable drug prices are a major cause of this trend.’

His team said that while doctors do have a choice as to which drug – the generic or the brand-name – they prescribe to patients, they are not necessarily to blame for prescribing the more expensive one.

Many cannot prescribe the generic due to a lack of access where they practice.

Researcher Dr Issac Kohane said: ‘This is a textbook example of what is wrong with this system.

‘This case is emblematic of a systematic disorder that is not unique to one particular drug, class of drugs or manufacturer – there is no transparent and systematic link between the price, or cost, of a drug and its actual value or impact in terms of health and disease.’