It’s a price tag that would give anyone sticker shock: $14,213.99 for a 90-day supply of generic acid reflux medication. But when Suzanne Luttig picks up the prescription for the drug, Zegerid, she pays only $24.
The catch? Luttig, a full-time professional photographer in Omaha, works an extra 25 hours a week at a bank primarily to help pay for the medication, which she says she cannot do without. “Because I have health insurance with my employer, I am able to be covered for this medication,” said Luttig, who provided NBC News with a receipt for her pharmacy medication. “I would not be able to get it if I didn’t have insurance.”
The price of her generic version of Zegerid, which is manufactured by Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, is significantly higher than the sum of the prices of its main ingredients: omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate. When bought separately, the two individual drugs would cost about $34 for her three-month supply with a coupon.
Zegerid is what’s known as a combination drug — a medication that combines two or more existing drugs — into a single pill or product. While they are convenient for consumers, experts say the price tag of the products contributes to the high cost of health care in America. “We’re not talking about transformative new therapies,” said Dr. Chana Sacks, an internist and medical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “We’re talking about very small tweaks to medicines that we have been using for these very reasons for years.”
Sacks authored a 2018 study on the subject that found that brand-name combination drugs cost Medicare $925 million more in 2016 than their generic components.