MONDAY, Jan. 17, 2022 (HealthDay News) — U.S. insurers are paying millions of dollars a year to cover the cost of ivermectin for COVID-19 patients despite a lack of evidence the antiparasitic drug is effective against the virus, a new study finds.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization say ivermectin pills — typically used to treat parasitic infections like worms — should not be used for COVID-19 except in clinical studies.
However, some doctors are still prescribing the drug – and many insurers are paying for it, the researchers found.
“Insurers typically don’t cover ineffective treatments, or at least charge patients for most of the costs,” said study leader Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, a health care researcher at the University of Michigan to Ann Arbor.
“Our study suggests that they treat ivermectin prescriptions for COVID-19 differently,” Chua said in a university press release. “In doing so, they are reducing barriers to an ineffective drug that some are using as a substitute for COVID-19 vaccination or evidence-based treatments.”
Interest in the drug increased in December 2020, the authors noted. But instead of protecting against the virus, the use of a drug typically reserved for horses and cattle has prompted increased calls to poison control centers across the country, previous research has found.
In this new study, an analysis of private insurance and Medicare Advantage claims from December 2020 to March 2021 revealed 5,600 prescriptions for oral ivermectin that were not written for a parasitic infection.
The total cost per prescription for ivermectin for COVID-19 was $58 for private plans, which paid 61% of that amount, or about $36. The total cost per prescription was $52 for Medicare Advantage plans, which paid 74% of that amount, or about $39. The patients paid the rest of the cost.
Based on these results, the researchers calculated that private plans and Medicare may have paid $2.4 million for ivermectin prescriptions related to COVID-19 in the week of August 13, 2021 alone.
At this rate, insurers would be spending nearly $130 million a year on ivermectin prescriptions for COVID-19, the study found. The results were published online on January 13 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Insurers should match their coverage for ivermectin with the level of medical evidence surrounding it — just as they do for other drugs, tests and procedures, the authors advised. They should also require doctors to justify prescribing ivermectin during the pandemic by completing a pre-authorization form, they added.
“To be clear, clinicians can still prescribe ivermectin for COVID-19, and patients can choose to pay for those prescriptions themselves. Our point is simply that insurers should not cover those prescriptions unless the ivermectin is not found to be an effective treatment for COVID-19,” said Chua, a pediatrician and member of the university’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against using ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
SOURCE: University of Michigan, press release, January 14, 2022
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