Prices of Immunosuppressants have Substantially Decreased, Why are They Still So Expensive?

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A study presented by the American Transplant Congress  showed that the cost of immunosuppressants for the average kidney transplant recipient has declined substantially due to the introduction of the generic versions of these medications. This begs the question, "Why are these drugs still so expensive?" After a Kidney Transplant, an End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) patient will need to take a lot of medications including immunosuppressant (anti-rejection) drugs, which stop the body from attacking and rejecting your new kidney. Recipients will have to take immunosuppressants for their entire lives. Though Medicare subsidizes kidney recipients for the first three years post transplant, many kidney transplant recipients experience financial strain in their ability to purchase immunosuppressive drugs after the three year coverage.

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The high cost of immunosuppressive drugs is an important factor in patient non-adherence to treatment. Although annual costs for anti-rejection medication fell from $33,040 to $18,746 between 2007 and 2011 for the average kidney transplant recipient, the cost is still too high and yet an important factor in patient adherence to the recommended medication regimen. Approximately, 23.5% of kidney transplant recipients do not have prescription drug coverage while another 40% are having difficulty paying for their immunosuppressive medications with insurance coverage. Still, concerns about the use of some generic  immunosuppressants dissuade doctors from prescribing them, leading to added costs of non-generic medication.

Recommended Reading: Why is a Significant Portion of the Dialysis Patient Community Refusing Kidney Transplantation?

Many kidney transplant recipients cannot afford necessary transplant medications so they attempt to cut personal expenses, take loans, and find employment. However, cutting down on luxury items saves little in comparison to the greater expenses of medications. The second strategy, borrowing money, is effective in sufficiently obtaining funds but highly risky and could cause future financial distress. Finding a job that provides insurance coverage for people with a ESRD can be difficult because of your physical limitations and pre-existing condition.

Recommended Reading: ESRD Patients Can Help Themselves While Helping Others By Volunteering

Financial strain presents a considerable risk to kidney recipients’ ability to purchase immunosuppression drugs which can cause death and loss of transplanted kidney. For this reason many dialysis patients do not go on a transplant waiting list because even if they are called for a transplant they could not pay for the required immunosuppressive drugs once Medicare coverage expires. However, you should be aware that most drug manufacturers have Patient Assistance Programs, which may be able to help you get the drugs you need. If you are considering a transplant or are currently struggling to afford your medication, KidneyBuzz.com encourages you to talk to your social worker, coordinator or your pharmacist for possible solutions to this intractable problem. Also, click here to contact your Senator and Representative and tell them to support the "Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act of 2013" to extend Medicare coverage.

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References: 

"The Financial Impact of Immunosuppressant Expenses on New Kidney Transplant Recipients." US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.  

"Immunosuppressive Drug Costs Decline, But Still Expensive." Renal and Urology News

"What Is the Impact of Immunosuppressive Drug Costs on Adherence to Therapy?"   Renal and Urology News