A recent Forbes report showed that the top six most expensive medications in the world (which cost anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 a year for a typical treatment) were all so-called "orphan drugs" - meaning, medications used to treat very rare conditions.

IN PICTURES: 6 Great Companies With Top-Notch Healthcare Benefits

"Smaller patient populations mean higher prices," says Becky Foster of Foster Healthcare, a consulting firm serving biotech and pharmaceutical companies. "Very small populations - conditions that have 'orphan' or 'ultra-orphan' status - make it difficult to recoup the costs of development or provide a steady revenue stream that would allow them to invest in an ongoing development program once the drug is on the market."

However, many common diseases and conditions can also be expensive to treat. The actual out-of-pocket costs to patients can vary widely, though, depending on their insurance coverage and their eligibility for any government assistance programs or manufacturer-sponsored resources. Here are six very common conditions for which the treatments can be extremely costly.

  1. Cancer
    This is probably the most obvious one. According to the Medco 2010 Drug Trend Report, in the past four years, almost all of the drugs approved for cancer treatment have cost more than $20,000 for a 12-week course.However, costs for some cancer treatments may have actually decreased recently. According to the Medco Report, several cancer drugs became available in generic form for the first time in 2009, giving patients a cheaper option.
  2. Multiple Sclerosis
    The Medco Report says MS treatment spending increased 24.7% (per patient per month) from 2008 to 2009. According to HealthCentral, the most common treatments for MS can cost around $2,000 per month or more - and patients often must take them for their entire lives. (Learn more about cutting your healthcare costs, read Fighting The High Costs Of Healthcare.)
  3. Diabetes
    According to a Consumer Reports survey, diabetes drugs can costs up to $250 per month each, and many patients will need to take more than one drug at a time. In fact, a ConsumerAffairs.com report on diabetes drugs said that diabetes patients take an average of 8.9 prescription drugs on a daily basis. Insulin pumps can cost more than $5,000 plus another several hundred per month for pump treatments - but most insurance plans cover much of that cost.
  4. Rheumatoid Arthritis
    A variety of different types of drugs have been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. In recent years, a group of drugs known as TNF inhibitors have become more common as part of a RA treatment regimen. These drugs, which must be given via injection, can cost at least $16,000 per year, according to MedScape.
  5. High Blood Pressure
    There are numerous drugs commonly prescribed for patients with high blood pressure, and - as with diabetes - patients often require a regimen that involves daily doses of several different medications. Data compiled by Consumer Reports shows that name brand blood pressure drugs can cost more than $400 per month each. However, all of the major blood pressure drugs have equivalent generic forms that cost much less. (Learn about the alternatives to normal healthcare in Get Sale Prices On Healthcare With Discount Plans.)
  6. Depression
    There are many antidepressants on the market today, and patients often must try several before they find one that works best for them. These drugs can have an average monthly cost of up to $870 each, according to Consumer Reports. Insurance companies can vary widely as far as what percentage of the cost they will cover for these and other drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions.

The Bottom Line
While the most expensive drugs may be connected to rare diseases, there are lots of common conditions that require some pricey prescriptions, as well. However, you can often save considerable money by opting for generic versions or switching to a lower-deductible insurance plan. (For related reading, take a look at Health Insurance Tips For College Students.)

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: Billionaire Pledges and Other Positive Press.

Related Articles
  1. Investing

    Soul Cycle vs. Planet Fitness

    How has the fitness industry's shift from multipurpose health clubs to specialized studios and budget gyms played out for SoulCycle and Planet Fitness?
  2. Retirement

    How to Decide Where to Live in Retirement

    Here's a guide to help you decide where you want to live after retirement.
  3. Professionals

    How to Create a Retirement Co-Op in Your Community

    As the retirement boom continues, retirement co-ops are growing in popularity. Here's how to set one up in your community.
  4. Insurance

    The 4 Best Alternatives to Long-Term Care Insurance

    Understand what long-term care insurance is and the types of people who need this coverage. Learn about four alternatives to long-term care insurance.
  5. Insurance

    How Car Insurance Companies Value Cars

    Learn the methodology used by car insurance companies to value cars, and understand why the amount they give you may not cover the cost of a similar vehicle.
  6. Stock Analysis

    How Does Oscar Work and Make Money?

    Learn how startup Oscar is taking on the health insurance giants by offering customers free doctor's visits, generic drugs and 24-hour phone access to doctors.
  7. Insurance

    Life vs. Health Insurance: Choosing What to Buy

    When you only buy the coverage you truly need, the debate over medical insurance vs. life insurance might just be one you can avoid.
  8. Personal Finance

    Your Heirloom Jewelry: How Much Is It Worth?

    You grandma's diamonds are now yours. Whether you plan to keep them or not, you first need an honest appraisal. Here's how to get one.
  9. Insurance

    Life Insurance & Annuities: Sound Investments?

    There are certain scenarios in which investing in insurance is a savvy move. But expect a big chunk of your money to go toward fees.
  10. Professionals

    How to Help Clients Navigate Open Enrollment

    With companies trying to pass on more costs to employees, making the right choices during open enrollment is more important than ever.
  1. Are Cafeteria plans exempt from Social Security?

    Typically, qualified benefits offered through cafeteria plans are exempt from Social Security taxes. However, certain types ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Can your life insurance company sue you?

    A life insurance company generally cannot sue you, but it can sue your estate. The company may do this in order to recover ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How can insurance companies find out about DUIs and DWIs?

    An insurance company can find out about driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges against ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Can your insurance company cancel your policy without notice?

    In most states, an insurance company must give a policyholder written notice of at least 30 days before canceling a policy. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Does your car insurance company report accidents to the DMV?

    Your car insurance company does not generally report accidents to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). However, depending ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Can your insurance company drop you after an accident?

    It is possible, but highly unlikely, for an insurer to cancel a policy after one accident. If the accident results in a suspended ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!