After FDA Ban, Asthma Patients Are Facing Higher Inhaler Costs

A Harvard Medical School study says inhalers cost up to twice as much out-of-pocket now versus pre-ban.

Seven years ago, as part of the Clean Air Act, the FDA banned a type of inhaler that releases ozone-depleting chemicals called CFCs into the atmosphere. The catch? Some of the 25 million Americans who use inhalers are now paying up to twice what they did in 2008—amidst minimal research that the old variety caused significant ozone damage.

These are the findings of a study from Harvard Medical School (HMS), led by professor of healthcare policy and medicine Anupam Jena. The researchers examined data from 140,000 asthma patients across the country and across health plans and found that, on average, individuals now pay as much as $10 more out-of-pocket per inhaler, about double pre-2008 inhaler costs. The implications may be even larger for patients without insurance, since the FDA-approved inhalers can cost anywhere from $5 to $75 more than the old variety.

Further complicating the issue is the lack of evidence that the old products were a serious problem. Popular estimates say the old inhalers were responsible for less than 0.1 percent of all CFC emissions, and a 2011 Mother Jones article argued that the ban would not make a great impact on the environment.

In a statement, Jena said it’s important to consider all aspects of the issue, from environmental to economic:

“In this case, patients with asthma have essentially subsidized environmental efforts to improve the ozone, by paying higher prices for their medications. To tackle tough problems like this we need to know the costs and benefits of all the policies being considered. Our study provides an important piece to that puzzle,” he said.