You may not know it, but you could be on the hook to pay at least $124 this year for a drug you probably don't take.
The drug is a new class of cholesterol-lowering agents called PCSK9 inhibitors. Its cost and how we are paying for it illustrate why we all need to care about not only our own health care bills but also those of our neighbors. And it helps focus the debate about drug prices on two questions: What is the value delivered by the drug, and can that be linked to its price? And how should such value-based prices be implemented?
In July, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first of two new PCSK9 inhibitors that lower the bad type of cholesterol, LDL. Studies suggest that they can reduce it by up to 60 percent, compared with a placebo, and reduce it up to 36 percent more than statins and a drug called ezetimibe. However, there are no definitive data on how much these drugs actually reduce heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease. Researchers suggest they might decrease the likelihood of such bad outcomes. For example, one preliminary study found that taking the drug lowered the overall chances that a patient would experience a heart attack or stroke, or hospitalization or death from heart disease, to 1.7 percent from 3.3 percent. The definitive studies will be out in 2017.
Drugs like these can help us lead longer, more productive lives. The problem is that the companies producing these drugs — Amgen, Sanofi and Regeneron — announced that the retail price for a prescription would be more than $14,000 per patient per year. The price is particularly steep given that these drugs may need to be taken for the rest of the patients' lives. How much patients pay directly would depend on their insurance plan.