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$16,000 price tag for a 14-day postpartum depression treatment: A new drug raises alarm

Experts question how much insurance coverage the drug will receive

The newly approved postpartum depression drug, zuranolone, marketed as Zurzuvae, which is priced at nearly 16,000 US dollars for a 14-day treatment course, has raised concerns among doctors, who worry that some patients may face challenges affording the medication.

Zurzuvae, the first postpartum depression (PPD) drug in pill form, received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in August. Despite its high price, the drugmaker Sage Therapeutics stated recently that Zurzuvae is expected to enter the market by December. Sage and partner Biogen are currently in discussions with insurers regarding coverage for the medication.

Emphasising that the company's goal is to ensure broad and equitable access for women, PPD Sage CEO Barry Greene expressed the hope that patients, whenever possible, would have minimal to no co-pay, irrespective of financial means. Additionally, the companies are exploring options to assist with costs or provide the drug at no charge to specific patients.

Mental health experts appreciate Zurzuvae's approval for its innovative approach to treating postpartum depression. Dr. Catherine Monk, chief of the Division of Women’s Mental Health at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, highlighted its perceived fast-acting nature, noting improvements in depressive symptoms in as little as three days during a company trial while speaking to US media.

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- Zurzuvae become first oral drug to get FDA approval for treating postpartum depression

Before Zurzuvae, the options for treating postpartum depression included pills like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These pills take weeks to start working and need to be taken every day for six to twelve months. SSRIs like Prozac and Zoloft are considerably less expensive, typically costing less than 20 US dollars a month.

Mental health experts have expressed concerns arising out of the 15,900 US dollars price for the drug, with experts questioning how much insurance coverage it will receive. Dr Lindsay Allen, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and health economist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, emphasised the importance of ensuring access to such treatments, considering their potential life-saving impact for new mothers during a vulnerable period. Suicide is identified as a leading cause of death in the first year postpartum.

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