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Pricey compounded drugs come under scrutiny


What do a $1,600 custom-made diaper rash treatment, $8,500 scar-reduction cream and a $2,300 pain-relieving salve all have in common? Their price tag. And, more often than not, healthcare insurers are left to pick up the expensive tab for compounded medicines, reports the New York Times.

Certain insurers like Harvard Pilgrim are taking steps to reign in the spending on compounded drugs. Last year, Massachusetts's second-largest insurer decided to stop covering compounded drugs because it said the costs and safety concerns posed too great of a risk, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

Pharmacy benefits managers, like those who own UnitedHealth Group and Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, said they will no longer pay for more than 1,000 ingredients used in compounding, noting that such spending grew to $171 million in the first quarter of this year, compared to the $28 million in the first quarter of 2012, notes the Times.

There are many factors that attribute to the rising costs of ingredients used to create the drugs. For one, doctors are moving away from traditional drugs, like painkillers, and are using ointments and creams, noting it provides a more direct relief without entering the bloodstream, according to the Times.

What's more, there is little evidence that such creams contain safe ingredients. Many states are looking to control spending on compounded drugs in workers' compensation as well--Ohio set a limit of $600 per prescription.

Yet there are those who support and advocate for the use and spending of compounded drugs.

"Millions of people benefit from compounding," Jay McEniry, executive director of a coalition formed to fight the cuts by Express Scripts, told the TImes. "For the most part, people who take compounded medications have no alternatives."

But the question of safety is nothing new. Compounded drugs from a pharmaceutical compounding center in Massachusetts were linked to meningitis infections in more than 200 people and 15 deaths.

For more:
- here's the NYT piece

Related Articles:
Harvard Pilgrim sued for not covering compounded drugs
Hospital use of compounding pharmacies under fire
Harvard Pilgrim drops compound drug coverage