Preemie birth preventive spikes from $10 to $1,500

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ATLANTA (AP) - The price of preventing preterm labor is about to go through the roof. A drug for high-risk pregnant women has cost about $10 to $20 per injection. Next week, the price shoots up to $1,500 a dose, meaning the total cost during a pregnancy could be as much as $30,000.

That’s because the drug, a form of progesterone given as a weekly shot, has been made cheaply for years, mixed in special pharmacies that custom-compound treatments that are not federally approved.

But recently, KV Pharmaceutical of suburban St.Louis won government approval to exclusively sell the drug, known as Makena (Mah-KEE’-Nah). The March of Dimes and many obstetricians supported that because it means quality will be more consistent and it will be easier to get.

None of them anticipated the dramatic price hike, though _ especially since most of the cost for development and research was shouldered by others in the past.

“That’s a huge increase for something that can’t be costing them that much to make. For crying out loud, this is about making money,” said Dr. Roger Snow, deputy medical director for Massachusetts’ Medicaid program.

“I’ve never seen anything as outrageous as this,” said Dr. Arnold Cohen, an obstetrician at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.

“I’m breathless,” said Dr. Joanne Armstrong, the head of women’s health for Aetna, the Hartford-based national health insurer.

Doctors say the price hike may deter low-income women from getting the drug, leading to more premature births. And it will certainly be a huge financial burden for health insurance companies and government programs that have been paying for it.

The cost is justified to avoid the mental and physical disabilities that can come with very premature births, said KV Pharmaceutical chief executive Gregory J. Divis Jr. The cost of care for a preemie is estimated at $51,000 in the first year alone.

“Makena can help offset some of those costs,” Divis told The Associated Press. “These moms deserve the opportunity to have the benefits of an FDA-approved Makena.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not involved in setting the price for the drugs it approves.

A KV subsidiary, Ther-Rx Corp., will market the drug. On Tuesday, it announced a patient assistance program designed to help uninsured and low-income women get the drug at little or no cost.

But Snow and others said someone is going to have to pay the higher price. Some of the burden will fall on health insurance companies, which will have to raise premiums or other costs to their other customers. And some will fall on cash-strapped state Medicaid programs, which may be forced to stop paying for the drug or enroll fewer people.

“There’s no question they can’t afford this,” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

Salo and Snow said they do not know how many state Medicaid programs currently pay for Makena, which as a generic was recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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