Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cost of Diabetes Drugs Double In 6 Years

This isn't going to surprise anyone: Diabetes is getting more costly to treat, both for individuals, and for the nation as a whole.

A study last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that drug costs for type 2 diabetes just about doubled in the six short years between 2001 and 2007 (from $6.7 billion in 2001 to $12.5 billion in 2007).1

The costs are increasing because more people are being diagnosed with diabetes, and because the cocktail of drugs patients are being prescribed is getting more complex. In 1994, 82% of patients were being treated with just one diabetes drug. In 2007, only 47% received one diabetes drug.

The cost of the drugs is rising too. The average price of a diabetes-related prescription rose from $56 in 2001 to $76 in 2007. Keep in mind, that's $76 per prescription and by 2007 more people were being written more than one prescription. (Those are averages. Many drugs are more costly, e.g. a one-month supply of Januvia is going for $181 at

This study just looked at drug costs. According to Merck spokeswoman Amy Rose, drug costs represent less than one-fifth of the total public health costs of diabetes. The bulk of costs, more than 80%, were due to hospitalizations and outpatient care - areas of treatment that are also experiencing price increases.

There's an alternative, but according to Dr. Stuart Weiss, an endocrinologist at New York University Medical Center, it's not being embraced:2
"Diet and exercise is the best thing we can do for our diabetic patients, but they are not very comfortable accepting diet and exercise as the treatment for diabetes."

"There is no medication that can't be overwhelmed by a bad diet."
The findings in this report beg the question:2
"Are these changes going to lead to overall significant improvement in the outcomes that matter to patients and their doctors?"
- G. Caleb Alexander MD, lead author and associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago
The jury is still out on that.

1 National Trends in Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, 1994-2007, Archives of Internal Medicine

2 Cost of Diabetes Care Has Doubled, Washington Post, October, 2008