In the old days, blockbuster drugs were moderately expensive pills taken by hundreds of thousands of patients. Think blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes pills. But today, many blockbusters are designed to target much less common diseases, illnesses like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis or even specific subcategories of cancer. These medications have become blockbusters not through the sheer volume of their sales, but as a result of their staggeringly high prices. Tens of thousands of dollars per patient, per year.
The high cost of such blockbuster specialty drugs creates significant financial burden for many patients. When a drug costs $90,000 per year, and a patient pays 10% of that cost, we are talking about a serious chunk of change. Not surprisingly, as these out-of-pocket costs rise, so too do the rates of “non-adherence,” medical lingo for “the patients didn’t take the medicines that I, their doctor, thought they should take.” Non-adherence used to be called noncompliance, which sounded too paternalistic. Now some experts are shifting to an even less judgmental language of “medication abandonment.” Indeed, here is a picture of the likelihood that patients will stop taking specialty drugs as a function of their out-of-pocket costs:
What can we do to help patients afford these medications?