Life-Changing Drugs Almost Nobody Can Afford

Producer/Director Suzanne Hillinger

Patients suffering from rare diseases who had little hope for a treatment now have access to life-changing medicines, thanks to pharmaceutical companies’ investment in so-called orphan drugs, which treat diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people. But the increasing number of people who would benefit from these treatments may not be able to afford the stunningly high prices, which can reach far beyond $1 million a year.

Reed Abelson and Katie Thomas, who cover the health care and drug industries, examine one ultra-costly drug that threw a union health plan into a crisis as it struggled to pay for an Ohio family’s prescriptions. Reporting for “The Weekly,” Reed and Katie found that pharmaceutical companies hold most of the power to set their own prices, and desperate patients and their health plans have few options and little recourse.

As treatments for rare diseases become more available, costs are skyrocketing and the health care industry is racing to find ways to provide promising new drugs to many more people.

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Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen, and Liz Day
Director of Photography Victor Tadashi Suarez
Video Editor Geoff O’Brien
Associate Producer Abdulai Bah