Of 'Miracles' And Money: Why Hemophilia Drugs Are So Expensive
The short answer: Competition doesn't do its traditional job of tamping down costs.
This article first appeared March 08, 2018 on Kaiser Health News.
By Jenny Gold
YUBA CITY, Calif. — When Landon Morris was diagnosed with hemophilia shortly after birth, his mother, Jessica Morris, was devastated. “It was like having your dreams — all the dreams you imagined for your child — just kind of disappear,” she recalled.
Hemophilia, a rare bleeding disorder caused by a gene mutation that prevents blood from clotting properly, is typically passed from mother to son. Morris’ grandfather had it, and she remembered hearing how painful it was. “It was almost like he was bubble-wrapped,” she said. “He was coddled, because his mom didn’t want him to get hurt.”
But Landon’s life turned out much different than she expected.
“He’s wild. He’s probably sometimes the roughest of them all,” she said, as she watched the 6-year-old race around a park. “He leads a totally normal life. He plays T-ball. He’ll start soccer in the fall. He runs and jumps and wrestles with his brothers.”
That’s due almost entirely to his medication — the kind that wasn’t available in his grandfather’s day. For the Morris family, this type of drug — broadly known as clotting factor — is a miracle, helping Landon’s blood clot normally. And its cost is almost entirely covered by his father’s federal employee health plan.
But for the health care system, such drugs are enormously expensive, among the priciest in the nation. Medications to treat hemophilia cost an average of more than $270,000 annually per patient, according to a 2015 Express Scripts report. If complications arise, that annual price tag can soar above $1 million. The U.S. hemophilia drug market, which serves about 20,000 patients, is worth $4.6 billion a year, according to the investment research firm AllianceBernstein.