HealthDay News — The cost of albuterol inhalers has risen dramatically as a result of a 2008 federal ban on asthma inhalers containing chlorofluorocarbons, a substance known to contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, according to study findings.
Immediately following the ban, the mean cost of albuterol inhalers rose from $13.60 per prescription in 2004 to $25 in 2009, study author Anupam Jena, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told HealthDay.
To assess the impact of the ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on out-of-pocket costs for albuterol inhalers, the investigators culled private insurance data from adults (n=109,428) adult and children (n=37,281) diagnosed with asthma. The researchers published their study results in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The cost of albuterol inhalers decreased slightly, dropping to an average $21 by the end of 2010, explained Jena. Their price has hovered around that level ever since. Prices for the inhalers exploded because manufacturers swapped out established and cheap generic CFC inhalers for more expensive brand-name inhalers containing hydrofluoroalkane, according to Jena.
The price hike was tied to a slight decline in the use of asthma inhalers, the researchers found. The decline amounted to about 5%, related to an average $10 in patient out-of-pocket expenses.
“This is a set of medications that patients with asthma really need to use,” Jena said. “That’s perhaps why we didn’t see a large decline in utilization, even though the out-of-pocket cost went up considerably.”
The researchers also did not see an increase in hospitalizations due to asthma, likely because most people ate the extra cost and continued to buy and use inhalers, he said. However, the study authors added that it’s not clear what effect the increased cost might have had for people without insurance.