An Obscure Drug Made from Pig Pituitaries Has a Growing Medicare Tab | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News | Scoop.it

An obscure injectable medication made from pigs' pituitary glands has surged up the list of drugs that cost Medicare the most money, taking a growing bite out of the program's resources.


Medicare's tab for the medication, H.P. Acthar Gel, jumped twentyfold from 2008 to 2012, reaching $141.5 million, according to Medicare prescribing data requested by ProPublica. The bill for 2013 is likely to be even higher, exceeding $220 million.


Acthar's explosive growth illustrates how Medicare's prescription drug program — perhaps more than private health insurers and even other public health programs — is struggling to contain the taxpayer burden of expensive therapies aimed at rare conditions.


Many outside experts say there's insufficient evidence that the drug works better than much cheaper options for treating multiple sclerosis relapses and a rare kidney disease, conditions for which it is often prescribed. In the absence of such scientific studies, some private health insurance companies, as well as Tricare, the military's health care program, have curtailed or eliminated spending on Acthar. Proponents of the drug say it is a worthy option for patients who have failed on other therapies.