We recently posted an item discussing a New York Times article about Genentech’s drug Cerezyme . One reader posted a comment on that item, and her story is so compelling that we asked her if we could post it as a stand-alone blog entry. She agreed. Jessica’s story appears below, in which she describes the difficulties she’s faced in affording her prescription for Provigil, which she needs to treat her narcolepsy.
One of the reasons that Provigil is so expensive (about $200 for 30 tablets of 100 mg, and about $270 for 30 tablets of 200 mg) is that there is no generic version available. Why is there no generic version available? Largely because Cephalon (NASDAQ: CEPH), the manufacturer of Provigil, filed patent infringement lawsuits against generic drug companies that tried to bring a less expensive generic version to market. Then Cephalon paid them off, to the tune of more than $130 million, not to sell generic versions of Provigil until 2011 at the earliest. PAL member AFSCME District Council 37 Health & Security Plan is a plaintiff in a national class action lawsuit challenging these payoffs.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Cephalon’s CEO, Frank Baldino, got $13.5 million in compensation last year. This is much more than CEOs at other, much larger, drug companies earned last year, including Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb. This news will certainly be of no comfort to patients like Jessica.
Without further ado, here’s Jessica’s story. At her request, we’re using only her first name. The opinions expressed and events described below are hers and not necessarily ours.
Cephalon makes a similar claim as Genentech’s to provide “the drug free, if necessary, so that no one goes without the product because of its cost.” Cephalon’s PROVIGIL Assistance Program is solely administered by the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). The NORD website asserts that their Patient Assistance Programs
“assist uninsured or under-insured individuals in securing life-saving or life-sustaining medications. In addition to the estimated 50 million Americans who have no health insurance, an increasing number of insured individuals have policies that do not reimburse for prescription drugs. Others have policies with low annual caps on prescription drug expenditures. NORD works closely with humanitarian-minded pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to ensure that certain vital medications are available to those individuals whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to pay for their prescribed medications.”
But it turned out Cephalon was not as “humanitarian-minded” as NORD would have you believ
When my health insurance dropped Provigil from their formulary in 2007, my Provigil copay jumped from $50/month to $234/month in addition to a $500 brand name deductible and my $130 monthly premium. I’m not sure why my insurer took Provigil off the formulary (I asked them and they didn’t know either) but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in response to Cephalon’s prohibiting the generic versions that were supposed to come out in 2006. I realize $234 a month is nothing compared to many HIV and cancer drugs. But $234 is a lot when you consider that my Narcolepsy prevents me from being able to work more than 15 hours/week (with medication) and that I am only 26 and will be dependent on drugs like Provigil for the rest of my life. I was barely scraping by with a $50/month copay so I suddenly found myself unable to front the costs to buy even a one-month supply of Provigil. I had to stop taking my medicine which meant I could no longer work at all.
Desperate to find a way to get my medicine so I wouldn’t end up on welfare, I called Cephalon’s PROVIGIL Assistance Program and requested financial assistance. I was still willing to pay part of the costs, but I hoped they could give me some sort of rebate. Cephalon told me that because I had some form of insurance I didn’t qualify for any assistance, regardless of how high my co-payment is or my financial situation. They told me that if I was uninsured they would pay up to $500 per month (which is the retail cost of a month supply for me). They actually suggested I drop my insurance plan. It seems strange (not to mention unethical) that they would rather I drop my insurance so they could give me $500/month instead of just helping me with a portion of my $235 co-pay. It is cheaper for them if I have insurance. And if they can afford to shell out $500 a month to every uninsured patient, why can’t they just reduce the price for everyone so less people will need their financial assistance in the first place? They would probably make more money if they charged less because patients like me wouldn’t be forced to stop taking the medicine all together.
I actually considered listening to them and dropping my insurance so I could get free medication, but that ultimately wasn’t an option because I have other health conditions and my pre-existing conditions would make it unlikely I could obtain new insurance in the future. I contacted NORD back in December to notify them of the discrepancy between Cephalon’s assistance policies and those implied on NORD’s website. I asked for their help or their clarification if I had misunderstood. 4 months later, I have yet to hear anything from NORD.
My neurologist was kind enough to give me samples which I now ration out for days when I absolutely must function. I can’t afford enough Provigil to work so I have been forced to apply for Social Security Disability Benefits (which I’m told will likely be denied). I’ve tried getting in on clinical trials but I don’t qualify. The thought of spending the rest of my life half-asleep and a burden to the people I love is so depressing I often think I’m better off dead.
Unethical drug companies have managed to take everything I’ve earned in my short 26 years of life and turn it into debt without any hope or means to get back on my feet. I don’t know about Genentech, but Cephalon certainly doesn’t care if their customers go without the product because of its cost. Cephalon has no interest in the well-being of the very consumers that support them.
We’re happy to post a response to this from Cephalon or NORD, if anyone from either of those entities cares to reply.