Treating A Scorpion Sting: $ 100 In Mexico Or $ 12,000 In U.S.

By Jenny Gold
Kaiser Health News, November 28, 2011

Say you’re trekking through the desert in Mexico, minding your own business, when all of a sudden a scorpion scrambles up your boot and stings your leg. You hobble over to a nearby clinic, where you’re given a dose of anti-venom that brings you fast relief. The charge for the serum is about $100.

Now imagine instead that you happen to be hiking in Arizona, and the same type of scorpion stings you. You make it to the emergency room, where the charge for a dose of the same anti-venom costs can cost as much as $12,000, according to a survey by The Arizona Republic.  Since patients need three to five doses, the cost can reach about $50,000.

The drug, called Anascorp, has been available for years in Mexico, but was just given FDA approval in August  for the U.S. market. Anascorp is designed to treat the sting of the Bark Scorpion, a particularly poisonous species.

Milton Ellis, president of Rare Disease Therapeutics, a Tennessee-based company that has the rights to Anascorp in the U.S., told The Arizona Republic that the cost of the drug is based on a number of factors, including the expensive clinical trial the company sponsored to get FDA approval and the expected demand for the serum. The company sells the drug for $3,500 to another firm that provides it to Arizona hospitals for about $3,780, The Republic found.

Hospitals mark up the drug to cover other costs, including the expenses of patients who are uninsured and the heavy discounts it gives to insurers.

Dr. Leslie Boyer, director of the Venom Immunochemistry, Pharmacology and Emergency Response (VIPER) Institute and the principal investigator of the Anascorp study published in the New England Journal of Medicine,  says she was surprised and “a little saddened” by the high cost of the drug. “It’s priced at a level where we can only use it for the very sickest patients, when I know that people with more moderate symptom would also benefit but might not be able to afford it,” she explains.

If the drug were “priced for the walking miserable,” instead of only those patients with the most severe symptoms, more of the drug would be sold and the price could be lower, she explains. As it is, she worries that rural Arizona hospitals, which tend to be the least wealthy, will not be able to stock the anti-venom and will still have to send critically-ill patients on a long helicopter or ambulance ride instead.

The high prices, she says, are “a public health problem.”

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Response

Don McCanne says:
(Comment is awaiting moderation as of this posting.)
November 29, 2011 at 12:38 PM

Results of a quick Internet search:

Study posted yesterday at ClinicalTrials.gov:
http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/study/NCT00624078?term=Anascorp&rank=1

Sponsor: Instituto Bioclon S.A. de C.V. (Mexico
Collaborator: University of Arizona

R&D at Instituto Bioclon:
http://www.bioclon.com.mx/bioclon/html/investigaciond_en.html

“The Bioclon Institute’s technology plan has been implemented through a financing strategy that combines the Institute’s own investments with resources from governmental institutions through agreements with: The National Science and Technology Board (El Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia) (Mexico), The Commerce Secretary (La Secretaria de Economía) (Mexico), and The Food and Drug Administration (United States).”

The fact that government-supported research (United States and Mexico) can result in a product that sells for $100 in Mexico and $12,000 in the United States, says much more about how health care is financed in the United States than it does about government and private roles in research.

All other wealthy nations have controlled health care spending much more effectively, while covering everyone, by using financing systems that require considerable government oversight. We rely on a fragmented system of private plans, public programs (and no programs at all for far too many), that has allowed runaway spending without a commensurate improvement in quality and outcomes.

It really is time to dump the administratively wasteful but expensive private insurers which have been ineffective in slowing cost escalation. We should improve Medicare, and then provide it for everyone. We might not be able to get the price of Anascorp down to $100, but negotiations through our own public Medicare administrators would set pricing based on legitimate costs and fair profits – a price that would undoubtedly be a small fraction of the $12,000 being charged.

http://capsules.kaiserhealthnews.org/index.php/2011/11/treating-a-scorpion-sting-100-in-mexico-or-12000-in-u-s/comment-page-1/#comment-19404

And…

Antivenom for Critically Ill Children with Neurotoxicity from Scorpion Stings

By Leslie V. Boyer, M.D., et al
The New England Journal of Medicine, May 14, 2009

Among critically ill children with neurotoxic effects of scorpion envenomation, intravenous administration of scorpion-specific F(ab′)2 antivenom resolved the clinical syndrome within 4 hours, reduced the need for concomitant sedation with midazolam, and reduced the levels of circulating unbound venom. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00685230.)

Supported by grants from the Food and Drug Administration (FD-R-002385-01) and the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission (0001).

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0808455#t=abstract

Instead of administered pricing, our government depends more heavily on the market for the pricing of our health care when payments are made through private insurers. Only the magic of the marketplace can price a $100 vial of antivenin at $12,000! Obviously we do not have nor ever will have a functioning free market in health care. It’s time to abandon this myth and move on with an effective method of controlling costs through fair pricing – a single payer national health program.