Price for lifesaving drug skyrockets

Posted at 11:17 PM, Oct 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-06 23:17:13-04

GRANDVILLE, Mich. -- A retired couple is now feeling the effects of a business model that's helped a pharmaceutical giant rake in big profits for its investors. Bruce Mannes has been taking a drug called Cuprimine for the past 55 years to survive. He has Wilson's disease, a rare disorder that causes too much copper to accumulate in his organs.

Cuprimine is owned and distributed by Canada-based Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, and in the last two years the price of the drug has more than quadrupled.

"Why should pills be able to jump from $9 a pill to $314 dollars a pill?" asked Mannes.

Bruce and his wife Susan are retired and living on a fixed income, and the deductible alone is becoming too much to bear.

But without the medication, Susan said, her husband could die a horrible death. "His lungs will cause him difficulty, his liver will shut down, and his brain will stop functioning," she said.

For years, Cuprimine was covered by insurance, leaving the Mannes with a $25 co-pay. As soon as they joined Medicare, they had to pay based on drug's retail price, which is nearly $38,000 for a month's supply of 120 pills.

"So our co-pay for a one-month supply could be $10,000," said Mannes.

Since Cuprimine is a tier-five drug, which means it's expensive and typically prescribed by a specialist, the Mannes are eligible for catastrophic coverage through Medicare, so they are only required to pay five percent of the retail price. That is still $1,800 per month.

Susan said she's disgusted with Valeant's price hike.

"They won't give me a reason why," said Susan. "There's no new research and development, there's no change in the capsule, no change in the equipment that produces it. So there's really no reason that they can tell me other than, they can."

Susan and Bruce are working three part-time jobs between the two of them just to pay for this life-saving medication, but it's not all bad news. After a recent article published in the New York Times, Valeant reached out to Susan Mannes Tuesday and offered to subsidize her husband's medication at little to no cost until January 1 of next year.

As for Valeant itself, published reports show the company's stock is falling due to heat from the New York Times article and talk by presidential candidates about ways to control drug price increases.