An investigative story by ProPublica and the New York Times is a troubling narrative about how Medicare spends shocking amounts of money on drugs to treat rare conditions that have not been shown to be superior than older, less expensive options. To add insult to injury, several of the doctors who most often prescribe these drugs have ties to the companies that make them.
H.P. Acthar Gel is an obscure injectable medication made from pigs’ pituitary glands that cost Medicare less than $7 million in 2008. By 2012, that tab had surpassed $141 million, and the cost for 2013 probably will exceed $220 million. But experts question its effectiveness, so why does Medicare keep paying?
Until about a decade ago, the drug was prescribed primarily for a rare infant seizure disorder, and it wasn’t expensive. Then Questcor bought the drug, raised its price precipitously and began to market it controversially for a much wider group of disorders.