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Julie  Stachowiak, Ph.D.

Multiple Sclerosis Drug Prices. Whoa...

By July 21, 2009

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UPDATED 6/7/2011: I just published an article on ways to get help paying for MS drugs. In the process of researching this topic, it occurred to me that I needed to update this blog on drug prices. I went to DestinationRx.com and checked it out - honestly, it was a little confusing, as the prices are listed per month, but there is some text about "mail order prices for 3-month supply" - what I think that means is that the monthly price is listed, but it is possible to get a 3-month supply from a mail order pharmacy (for 3 times the monthly price, presumably). If anyone has different information on the prices of these drugs, please let us know in the comment section below.

ORIGINAL BLOG OF 7/21/2009: I have been a little lax in updating my articles about disease-modifying drugs for multiple sclerosis. Honestly, I attempted to find the pricing information a couple of times in the past, but this information was difficult to locate easily. I recently found a really cool site where all of this info is readily available - DestinationRx.com. You can go to this site and enter your drug name and information about the minimum and maximum monthly cost (although the site does not provide information about where to get drugs at these prices).

This morning I decided to go in and "clean house," bringing the prices of the currently available drugs up to date.

I did know that the drug prices had risen in the two years since I wrote these articles (originally in 2007) , but I was pretty shocked at the extent of the increase. Check out the annual prices in 2009, compared to now:

  • Avonex (was $10,000/year in 2007): 2009 Minimum price = $23,736; Maximum price = $30,660; 2011 price = $39,683
  • Betaseron (was $10,000/year): 2009 Minimum price = $22,272; Maximum price = $32,616; 2011 price =$42,845
  • Copaxone (was $10,000/year): 2009 Minimum price = $23,208; Maximum price = $33,804; 2011 price = $45,045
  • Rebif was (was $15,600/year): 2009 Minimum price = $25,068; Maximum price = $30,756; 2011 price = $33,718
  • Tysabri (was $28,400/year): In 2009 cost 31,332 for the drug itself, with additional charges for the infusion facility or clinic fees. 2011 price = $42,656

And, new on the scene is Gilenya (fingolimod), which rang in at the 2011 price of $51,216.

Read the full articles:

July 21, 2009 at 10:58 pm
(1) Angel M. Negron Jr says:

Nice, so essentially all available treatments are inaccessible to anyone who isn’t rich or has health insurance.

I understand that the companies have to recoup their profits, but this is borderline criminal. Wonder if prices will drop when some of these drugs go generic….

June 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm
(2) Mary Beth says:

I agree w/you. Although it is not border line criminal IT IS CRIMINAL

June 10, 2011 at 11:32 am
(3) Sandra says:

You got that right Mary Beth!

October 6, 2011 at 9:19 pm
(4) Steve says:

It’s also criminal how these drugs havent been proven effective except for robbing one silly. I wish these drug companies he!!…

July 22, 2009 at 10:59 am
(5) Lisa says:

I’m glad that you updated these numbers. I’ve read a number of blogs/articles where the author quoted your numbers without verifying for himself. I use Copaxone and even three years ago the cost was approximately $18,000. The price just keeps going up and up, unfortunately.

July 22, 2009 at 12:14 pm
(6) Lynda says:

My husband is on Copaxone. We live in Michigan and the prescription is filled by Option Care Specialty Pharmacy. The monthly bill is very close to $2900.00 per month which is over the maximum price you have listed.

June 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm
(7) Lynda says:

Now the cost is around $3900.00 per month.

July 22, 2009 at 12:15 pm
(8) yourverity says:

I’d like to add the cost of Low Dose Naltrexone to those figures.

LDN: Minimum price = $10 per month; Maximum price = $36 per month

LDN Annual costs are: Minimum price = $120; Maximum price = $432

July 22, 2009 at 1:28 pm
(9) Anna says:

My health insurance has covered all of my Rebif cost exept for $1400.00/year for the last 3 years. This year they, to my surprise, are covering more. Now I am paying $1140.00 a year. They did raise my premiums though. Some good out of this recession stuff. I pray that everyone who needs health coverage and medication gets it.

July 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm
(10) oapatter says:

My copay went up, now I know why.

July 22, 2009 at 2:52 pm
(11) Erin says:

My Tysabri infusion monthly is being billed to Blue Cross for $5400 a month.

Angel—I know of people who don’t have health insurance, and luckily these drug companies are nice enough, most of the time, to cover the entire cost of the drug. There are options out there. You just have to look for them.

July 22, 2009 at 2:56 pm
(12) Bill says:

This is why there needs to be generic biologics available. The big drug companies and Rep. Anna Eshoo are trying to block real reform for this issue by offering roadblock legislation. If Congress really wants to take care of this issue it will pass H.R. 1427 which is bi-partisan legislation that will bring safe and affordable drugs to those who need them. Call your Congressman and ask them to support H.R. 1427 and oppose the Eshoo/drug company bill only intended to line their pockets.

July 22, 2009 at 3:14 pm
(13) Patricia says:

Imagine how costly the new line of drugs will be, which essentially perform the same task, immune system suppression, but in the form of a pill rather than a shot.

I have been incredibly lucky – have not had an attack in two years, without medicine. Following an allergen free, low saturated fat diet and strictly adhering to daily physical therapy. I dread the day I have to start the drugs.

July 22, 2009 at 3:18 pm
(14) Maureen Shanahan says:

Tysabri is $11,000.00 PER INFUSION. That’s no typo – that’s ELEVEN THOUSAND! (Plus the infusion center charge – mine was $350.00 each time)It is given once a month. I had 4 treatments (covered by insurance), before I realized that no miracle, no matter how expensive or hyped, would put humpty dumpty (me) back together again. Back on cheap (relatively) Copaxone for my 11th year now.

July 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm
(15) Scott says:

Never forget, most of the drugs were developed at Universities around the world, including taxpayer supported public universities and universities benefitting from National Institutes of Health Grants. This socialized risk absortion in the development of new medicines is donated to the many-Billion$-per-year drug companies (they don’t experience the 99% of new drugs that are duds). Regrettably, I delayed using my interferon B drug because I didn’t want to be a revenue stream for the Big PHARMA pigs (who spend double on ads/marketing than they do on research). Who here has watched the drug packaging change with the price increases (what was once two color printing is now three, like that keeps me healthy)? They are shameless. Please call your member of Congress and demand s/he does something about the way the big drug companies are hurting us and our country. Support HR 1427 – we need the generics already available in Europe and Bayer Pharma’s home Berlin.

July 22, 2009 at 3:40 pm
(16) Robin Moore says:

I am on Rebif and the patient assistance plan gave it to me for free for two years till medicaid kicked in. If you think you cant afford it, ask your doc to help get you into a program. Mine did.

July 22, 2009 at 5:13 pm
(17) Scott says:

I am glad you are getting the meds you need from patient assistance — I’ve heard from too many people who only get the meds they need for a more limited time. Is the “free” for some, patient assistance the reason my meds have increased from $960 per month to $2800 per month? This is like a new tax on the sick to cover the needs of the sick.

June 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm
(18) Mary Beth says:

I agree w/you. I wish people would stop patting Pharmo. com. on the back because they are so kind to “give FREE’ drugs to people. They are not giving you anything free. They charge those of us w/insurance more to recoup their $$ from the “free” program. Bottom line, those of us w/insure. are paying for those w/out and the drug comp. “free” drug program.

July 22, 2009 at 8:09 pm
(19) lesleyg says:

i cant believe what some of you guys are paying for your meds .Im now feeling very greatfull for what we call in scotland our NATIONAL HEALTH! where dont pay for the likes of disease modifing drugs and all other meds that are prescribed by the doctor cost five pounds about 10 dollars .if u are unemployed all medication is free! we take it all so much for grantage pople here moan about these small charges constantly! i believe thes charges are being phased out over the next few years. x

June 10, 2011 at 11:38 am
(20) sandra says:

Lesley, I’m jealous. We desperately need a universal health care plan in the USA. Between health insurance costs and the cost of my Tysabri co-pay, I am forking over at least $275/month. And I’m one of the lucky ones.

June 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm
(21) sdrnek says:

Universal Health care would be a terrible option for the USA. The government can’t manage Social Security or Medicare. What makes them think they could manage a health care system?

July 23, 2009 at 5:49 pm
(22) DestinationRx says:

We are glad that you have discovered Destinationrx.com as a resource for comparing drug prices! Our mission is to help consumers become smarter and more confident health care decision makers and buyers. It is important to note that our site does in fact provide pharmacy information and pricing for all drugs, including the ones mentioned in your post. From the page that shows the minimum/maximum monthly cost numbers, you can click on the “pharmacy pricing” tab directly underneath which takes you to a page with specific pricing including mail order, online and local pharmacies based on your zip code. A second tab on the original page will show therapeutically equivalent, lower cost options for your particular drug; in this case, however, as there is no generic version of this biologic, the best bet would be shopping around for the best-priced pharmacy.

July 25, 2009 at 6:13 pm
(23) Debbie says:

My prescription for copaxone is $3700 a month. I only pay a copay, but if I had to pay the sticker I could not afford my disease. Highway robbery.

July 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm
(24) kelly says:

My co pay is $615.00 a month….. impossible!

July 27, 2009 at 1:05 pm
(25) Lynda says:

When we had to sign up for the health insurance through my employer our deductible became $2300 per person. Shared Solutions (support for Copaxone.) got my husband signed up with the Chronic Disease Fund. They pay for his Copaxone until the deductible is met and the insurance takes over. If not for the CDF we couldn’t afford to keep Ed on his Copaxone.

July 28, 2009 at 12:04 am
(26) rosy1985 says:

Hi my name is rocio, 24yrs ols hispanic. I have a 5yr old son. I was just dx with MS, on aug 08. Can anyone tell me where I can get help with my medication. I work a full-time job and only make 20k a yr. I cannot afford this medicine. I haven’t been on any 4 the same reason. I’ve had 4 exacerbations in less than a yr. Can anybody plz tell me where can get help’ plz email me @ chiochip1985@gmail.com

August 2, 2009 at 10:37 am
(27) Peter R says:

When I see those price list, I realize how lucky I am to live in the civilized part of the western world – as it is mandatory here to have a health insurance. I would usually not know about the prices of any medicamentation, and best: dont care about it either.

August 12, 2009 at 1:23 pm
(28) CM says:

My Betaseron script just went up from around $2,150 per pack in June to $2,423 (or around $31,500/yr when you figure you have to get it refilled 13 times) in July. A 13% hike for a drug that has been on the market for 15+ years does seem a little steep. I have a HDHP and am liable for the first $4,000 of healthcare expenses period for my family, so after February next year everything for the rest of the year is covered with no copay. Being diagnosed in April and having a child born ate my deductible this year so I have not had to pay anything directly for Betaseron yet.

March 23, 2010 at 1:06 am
(29) Crystal A says:

I was dx with MS 5 1/2 yrs. ago. When I started on the Copaxone injections the Healthcare Benefits was around $1,353.00/ month. Now, 5 1/2 yrs. later, the Healthcare Benefits are $3,928.89/ month. I have a Medical Card & if I didn’t have that, there is NO WAY I could afford my medicine. I agree it is HIGHWAY ROBBERY. Drug companies are making a killing of the medicine that people with M.S. needs.

August 19, 2010 at 9:57 pm
(30) help says:

Well, here it is August 2010 and Rebif is close to $3,000 for 12 doses. That is $3,000 per month. My co-payments for the drug have been steadily going up over the years and now it’s 25%. It’s extortion for some people – pay up or die. Some people may qualify for assistance from the drug companies, but a lot of people who are still able to work often do not qualify for assistance. Let’s see, should I give up my car or my home? I cannot afford to pay approx. $700 a month for my medicine along with my car payment and mortgage. When will there be a generic opportunity for Rebif in the US?

November 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm
(31) Sally says:

Anyone know how much per month the new oral drug Finglomold costs?

December 27, 2010 at 9:38 pm
(32) Brenda Morris says:

I live in Hawaii and am taking Copaxone. The monthly cost of this medication is $3,138, which translates into an annual cost of $37,656. I agree with Mr. Negron. It is incomprehensible that this medication costs as much as it does. My insurance covers it, but there is no way that those who are not as fortunate in their insurance coverage could afford Copaxone or any of the other MS meds. Crazy.

March 29, 2011 at 9:25 pm
(33) mwallace says:

My sister and I both have MS. I have health Insurance – she does not and cannot afford the premium on disability, nor her copaxone prescription.

June 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm
(34) DebbieB says:

You did not list the Chronic Disease Fund as an assistance company for medications. They are very helpful.

June 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm
(35) Trace says:

The average price of Copaxone in Canada is about $14,000 USD. It is manufactured by Teva, of course, which has facilities in Montréal. The lower drug prices are simply the result of each province’s health ministry negotiating with Big Pharma and drawing the line at what they are willing to pay. Also, there has been no increase in the price of my Copaxone in the past 4 years; it’s actually about $200 less per month (and free to me, of course, as I live in Québec).

When I was living in New York I was fortunate enough to have good insurance that covered all of my MS drugs and treatments. What never made sense to me was this: Why are U.S. health insurers willing to pay the pharmaceutical companies’ exorbitant prices?? The insurance companies could be negotiating with Pharma in the same way that countries and health care providers do so around the world. There’s clearly collusion there.

June 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm
(36) Trace says:

Teva’s 20-year patent for Copaxone is ending this year, opening the door for generics. This is wonderful news!

Teva is currently doing trials on a repackaged version of Copaxone: The only difference is that it will be 40mg injected 3 times per week instead of 20mg every day. Unbelievable! There oughta be a law.

June 8, 2011 at 1:16 pm
(37) Bruce says:

Reading an article like this makes me glad I am Australian

June 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm
(38) Trudy says:

My Betaseron has increased from just under $1000 a month to over $3000!!!

The only thing that’s changed in the 4-5 years that I’ve been taking it is that the manufacturer changed. It’s still exactly the same medicine, except for the price!!

The site you suggest shows it even higher.

While I was working, my insurance covered almost all of that, but now I am in the Medicare “doughnut hole” after 2 months!!!

June 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm
(39) KIM says:

i’ve been on every drug..didn’t slow done my progrssion. just recently went off copaxone; i only pay $28 for a 3 month supply BUT i am paying much more when you take it all into consideration. I refuse to “pay” or have someone pay $45K a yr just because!!!!

June 9, 2011 at 5:38 am
(40) John says:

Approximately 8000 people in Ireland have MS and the government have a separate fund put aside to facilitate those who require medication. There are two main ways to avail of this, the Drug Refund Scheme and the Long Term Disability Scheme.

With the Drug Refund Scheme you pay €110 every month and this entitles you to receive all the medication you require in a given month, not just the MS ones. At the end of the year you can claim tax back on the money you have paid , €1320 per annum, at the lower rate of tax (20%), essentially meaning that for all your medication requirements, the most it will cost you on an annual basis is €1056.

Alternatively, if you have certain long-term illnesses, (the list includes MS), you may apply to join the Long Term Illness Scheme and you will be supplied with a Long Term Illness book. This book allows you to get drugs, medicines, and medical and surgical appliances directly related to the treatment of your illness, free of charge. It does not depend on your income or other circumstances.

Hearing some of the stories from the United States and Britain, it makes me realise how very lucky we are.

What is the situation in the United States if you are unemployed ? Does the government not pay for all your drugs in cases of financial hardship ?

June 10, 2011 at 12:00 pm
(41) sandra says:

John, as I commented to Lesley from Scotland, you folks with government sponsored universal healthcare are indeed fortunate. I’m sure I can speak for many Americans when I say that I am quite envious and wish that we had the same situation here in the good ol’ US of A. Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen in my lifetime.

That said, in response to your question regarding unemployment, the short answer is: you’re on your own. First off, not everyone who works receives employer sponsored health insurance. Second, employers are required to offer ex-employees continuation of their medical plan (known as COBRA) for 18 months, but the catch is that the employee must pick up the tab. The employer does not have to continue paying any portion of it.

The only government-paid health care plans are Medicare and Medicaid. To qualify for Medicaid, you must be poor (very poor!); to qualify for Medicare, you must be a senior citizen or determined to be disabled by the government.

There is one State (Massachusets) that has universal health care. The cost of the insurance is based on income.

That’s the long, sad story!

June 9, 2011 at 6:17 am
(42) Laurie says:

When I order my Copaxone through mail-order I get a 90 day supply but my copay is only the price of a two month supply. One month free! I recommend this choice to anyone who has prescription coverage with mail-order option.

June 9, 2011 at 7:30 pm
(43) Jennifer says:

I have recently started on the ONCE A MONTH IV infusion of Tysabri, and have seen the bill for it. The medication itself is $5000.00 and the IV administration is $400.00!!!! WOW!!! I do not have a co-pay, so I am blessed about that!

June 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm
(44) Debra says:

I am new to this and have only been on betaseron for 2 months. My husband thought it was a mistake when the walgreens specialty pharmacy quoted my copay on the meds ($435/month). But with help from my case manager and doctor I was able to learn about betaplus, a program that helps you with your copay for betaseron. So I have been blessed not to have any out of pocket expense. I also know that my insurance pays about $3100/month towards my meds. so thats a little over $42000/year, just as you wrote. I do think this is pretty costly and I hope in the future the price will decrease.

June 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm
(45) Chippers says:

What would interest me, is what people in other countries have to pay. Countries like Hondura, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama. Good luck if anyone can find out any of these prices for Avonex. The Pharma companies go to great lengths to protect the public from finding out what they charge in different countries.

June 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm
(46) Christine says:

RE: Mail-order price for three months of meds.
My insurance will give you a discount if you get 3 months of a perscriptipn at a time. Basically it’s buy 2 get 1 free pricing.

June 14, 2011 at 8:09 am
(47) ERICA says:

I think this is crazy. I am on Avonex and my insurance is charged $4000 a month or a $1000 per shot. Over 52 weeks in a year that is $52000 they are billing my ins! I truely belive that drug companies and insurance are big scams and really need to revamped. I know prices vary by pharmacies but this is crazy. Why do they keep going up?

June 23, 2011 at 8:30 pm
(48) Karrie says:

I was on Avonex for 9 years until I stopped it 2 months ago as I have recently learned that my MS has started to progress. I cannot take any of the interferon’s nor Copaxone (allergic); now my only options are Gilenya or Tysabri and I refuse to have my insurance company pay that kind of money for a drug.

Insurance companies along with the pharmacies do negotiate pricing for drugs but the US government needs to do something about the inflating costs of these meds. While at the same time, the Oxycontin’s, Xanax and etc. that folks are abusing are insanely cheap. Something is very wrong with this picture!

June 21, 2011 at 4:10 am
(49) Rob says:

I was on rebif and was paying 50 dollars a month found something better than rebif and no side effects. Being off rebif feels so much better

October 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm
(50) Candy says:

what did you find that was better than Rebif? I am having problems with finding funding with going on Medicare D.!!!

July 2, 2011 at 6:48 pm
(51) kelly says:

I have a really good insurance. My husband and I both work and have good jobs. BUT…with our income comes bills!!! I can not afford a $615.00 a month co pay for 1 medication!!!!! INSANE!!!!!

July 8, 2011 at 8:04 pm
(52) Rex says:

Vaporized Cannabaninoids will releave you of your spasms.
It’s much less than $$,$$$.00. With out the side effects of feeling like @)(*&.
Don’t be afraid of the stigma viewed by others without the experience we have, MS. I’m fine. It works well for me, it may help you.

November 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm
(53) Mark says:

The REAL Criminals are in CONGRESS. They pass legislation making it possible for the big drug companies to get away with it. The problem is the abundance of Senators and House Reps who are recieving campaign contributions from these big drug companies. For example, Rep. James Clyburn, D-SC, – in terms of his campaign contributions, he receives the bulk of his campaign funding from two industries: Banking and Big Pharma. So long as these fat cats are raking in the money…. they have NO incentive to change anything. Welcome to the status quo.

February 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm
(54) JB says:

Whats sad is when one of these drugs works very well but you cant afford to take it

April 8, 2013 at 9:38 pm
(55) TR says:

Just so you know, many health insurance companies will ONLY cover this type of drug for a period of 90 days after initial diagnosis.

I had “some” coverage with my health insurance after 90 days. They agreed to 30% after much fighting. However, I switched employers a few years later. Guess what? 0 coverage. They initially denied me as a pre-existing condition, then when the laws changed concerning that, they said they don’t cover prescriptions after 90 days.

The main issue with these drugs is how they manufacture them. They are not mere chemicals mixed in a lab, so you can’t get generics. These types of drugs are GROWN (via protein synthesis), and can’t be duplicated without knowing exactly how (and guess what, it’s under patent). So yeah, the DRUG PATENT may expire, but the PROCESS PATENT doesn’t. That basically means they have a tight monopoly and get to charge whatever they want. You can clearly see how it’s played out. This is the future of drugs in America – take note.

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