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. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: SPDR S&P Insurance

    Learn about the SPDR S&P Insurance exchange-traded fund, which follows the S&P Insurance Select Industry Index by investing in equities of U.S. insurers.
  2. Markets

    The 5 Biggest Canadian Insurance Companies

    Learn more about the insurance industry as a whole, how it functions in Canada, and the five largest Canada-based insurance companies.
  3. Entrepreneurship

    How Does ClassPass Work and Make Money?

    Find out how ClassPass makes money, how the company aims to help both businesses and consumers, and why it has been so successful.
  4. Retirement

    What Are the Risks to Your Retirement Security?

    One of the biggest risks to your retirement security is something you may take for granted: your health, and more specifically, health-care costs.
  5. Insurance

    How to Shop for Home Insurance

    Tips for getting the best protection for your place and possessions.
  6. Retirement

    Secrets to Finding the Right Nursing Home

    The wrong choice could mean inadequate – or even deadly – care.
  7. Investing

    Things Nursing Homes Are Not Allowed to Do

    What rights do a home's residents have? The same ones they they had before they entered the facility.
  8. Retirement

    How Much Medicaid and Medicare Cost Americans

    Medicaid & Medicare cost Americans plenty out of their paychecks. But how much, really? And what does that money buy?
  9. Insurance

    Healthcare Premiums Keep Rising, But Salaries Aren’t

    Learn how college and health insurance costs have skyrocketed while wages have stagnated, and how, given the necessity of these services, consumers are stuck.
  10. Taxes

    20 Medical Expenses You Didn't Know You Could Deduct

    To lower your tax bill, be sure not to miss out on these commonly overlooked medical tax deductions.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Net Collections

    A term used in medical accounting to describe the amount of money ...
  2. Directors And Officers Liability ...

    Directors and officers liability insurance covers you if you're ...
  3. Corridor Deductible

    Expenses that are paid by the insured in excess of an insurance ...
  4. Insurance Consortium

    A group of businesses or organizations that join together to ...
  5. Mobile Health

    Mobile health is the practice of medicine using new mobile technologies.
  6. Blanket Medical Expense

    An insurance policy which provides coverage for all medical expenses ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What happens if my insurance claim falls below the deductible level?

    Though the ins and outs of health insurance are often confusing, the concept of the insurance deductible is relatively straightforward. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How is the deductible I paid for my insurance claim treated for tax purposes?

    The deductible you pay on your health insurance policy may be tax-deductible if you meet certain conditions. However, whether ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are the main factors that impact share prices in the insurance sector?

    The main factors that impact share prices in the insurance sector are interest rates, earnings and actuarial risk. In the ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Why do insurance policies have deductibles?

    Insurance policies have deductibles for behavioral and financial reasons. Moral Hazards Deductibles mitigate the behavioral ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Which emerging markets are seeing the strongest growth in the insurance sector?

    The emerging market economies seeing the strongest growth for the insurance sector are primarily the main emerging market ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the range of deductibles offered with various health insurance plans?

    A wide range of possible deductibles are available with health insurance plans, starting as low as a few hundred dollars ... 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!