pills spilling out of bottle
Photo Credit: "Spilled pills_1", © 2010 Ano Lobb, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

“Everything happened so fast as I walked out of the doctor’s exam room. I was tucking in my shirt and wondering if I’d asked all my questions about my injured shoulder when one of the doctor’s assistants handed me two small boxes of pills. ‘These will hold you over until your prescription arrives in the mail,’ she said, pointing to the drug samples. Strange, I thought to myself, the doctor didn’t mention giving me any drugs. I must have looked puzzled because she tried to reassure me. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘It won’t cost you any more than $10.’ Vimovo was created using two readily and cheaply available generic medicines:  Aleve and Nexium,” Marshall Allen of ProPublica writes over at The Atlantic. “I was glad whatever was coming wouldn’t break my budget, but I didn’t understand why I needed the drugs in the first place. And why wasn’t I picking them up at my local CVS? … This had been my first visit with an orthopedic specialist, and he, Dr. Mohnish Ramani, hadn’t been the chatty type. He’d barely said a word as he examined me. … He promptly diagnosed me with frozen shoulder, a debilitating inflammation of the shoulder capsule. But back to the drugs. As an investigative reporter who has covered health care for more than a decade, the interaction was just the sort of thing to pique my interest. One thing I’ve learned is that almost nothing in medicine — especially brand-name drugs — is ever really a deal. When I got home, I looked up the drug: Vimovo. The drug has been controversial, to say the least. Vimovo was created using two readily and cheaply available generic, or over-the-counter, medicines: naproxen, also known by the brand name Aleve, and esomeprazole magnesium, also known as Nexium. The Aleve handles your pain, and the Nexium helps with the upset stomach that’s sometimes caused by the pain reliever. So what’s the key selling point of this new ‘convenience drug’? It’s easier to take one pill than two. But only a minority of patients get an upset stomach, and there was no indication I’d be one of them. Did I even need the Nexium component? Of course I also did the math. You can walk into your local drugstore and buy a month’s supply of Aleve and Nexium for about $40. For Vimovo, the pharmacy billed my insurance company $3,252. This doesn’t mean the drug company ultimately gets paid that much. The pharmaceutical world is rife with rebates and side deals—all designed to elbow ahead of the competition. But apparently the price of convenience comes at a steep mark-up.” Marshall Allen, “Two Generic Medications Become One Expensive Drug,” The Atlantic.

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...