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Routine bloodwork done as part of Shannon Wood Rothenberg’s annual physical pointed to anemia, a condition that runs in her family. Rothenberg’s doctor advised her to take iron supplements.
Two months after starting the iron pills, Rothenberg’s anemia persisted. So the doctor sent the 48-year-old teacher to a hematologist who could look deeper into the cause and infuse iron directly into her veins. She received her treatments at a cancer center operated by a local hospital.
After receiving two infusions of Injectafer, an iron solution, Rothenberg was stunned to get bill: more than $14,000 per vial. Her insurance carrier negotiated for a much cheaper rate: about $1,600 per vial. But Rothenberg still owed the hospital $2,733, based on what was still unpaid in her family’s $9,000 deductible.
“I have twins who are going to college next year,” she said. “I don’t have $2,700 sitting around.”
Anemia is a common condition created by low iron levels. It can cause headache, fatigue and irregular heartbeat. Anemia is also associated with other medical conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease and kidney failure.
The first federally approved iron infusion drug came to the U.S. in 2000. It carried fewer side effects than iron pills and became quickly popular.
Kaiser Health News, which first reported Rothenberg’s story, found that more Americans are getting iron infusions as a treatment for anemia. In fact, about 9 million Americans on Medicare have gotten iron infusions each year since 2013.
Kaiser found doctors in other countries are far less likely to prescribe iron infusions because of the cost. But the reporters note that in the United States, hospitals and doctors can haul in big profits. Especially treating those who have private insurance.
Rothenberg – whose iron levels are now fine – is paying off her $2,700 bill in installments over two years. She said nobody told her about the high cost.
“If they had said: ‘This is going to cost you $3,000.’ I would have said: ‘Oh, never mind.’”
Have you been surprised by the high cost of a drug administered to you? Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.