Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin (the pigment that gives skin its color). The damage to melanocytes leaves white patches on the skin. If you’re living with depigmentation from vitiligo, then you know finding an effective treatment can be difficult and expensive. In fact, many people struggle to pay for the treatment they need.
Here, we will explore several options for lowering the cost of your vitiligo treatments and making your overall treatment plan more affordable.
Drug and medication manufacturers offer copy assistance programs to help people afford expensive medications. When you apply, you’ll need to include proof of your income level and financial hardship. If you qualify, you’ll pay less than the listed cost every time you fill your prescription.
You can look online to find these programs. GoodRx has a list, as does the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America through its website MedicineAssistanceTool.org. You can also contact your drug’s manufacturer directly to see if they offer a manufacturer coupon or have information on financial support. If you can’t find anything, ask your doctor or pharmacist, as they often know how to find connections to these programs.
Opzelura, a formulation of ruxolitinib, is a new topical treatment option recently approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for repigmentation (adding pigment back to the skin) with minimal side effects. Opzelura offers a copay savings program for people with vitiligo.
Many insurance companies require prior authorization before they’ll cover certain medications or treatments. Your doctor or dermatologist will need to submit proof that you require this particular treatment before your insurance will pay for it.
Once you and your doctor submit all the necessary information, the insurance company will review it and make a decision about coverage. You can usually appeal this decision if it doesn’t go your way and you and your health care provider believe the treatment is medically necessary.
If your dermatology team recommends ultraviolet phototherapy (or light therapy) to treat your vitiligo, look into investing in a home phototherapy unit. The initial investment can be significant, but the long-term cost could be much lower than the cost of years of in-office phototherapy treatments and commuting expenses. Check your insurance policy to see how your in-office phototherapy visits are covered.
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, in-office phototherapy costs about $3,900 per year, on average. While this particular statistic references phototherapy for psoriasis, it gives an idea of how much phototherapy could cost.
The cost of home phototherapy can vary. One scientific review published in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology found the treatment costs an average of $5,000 upfront, plus another $1,000 for bulbs every three to six years. Dermatology Online Journal cites initial costs that average $2,600, plus the regular bulb purchases.
The exact cost of a home phototherapy unit will depend on the size and type of machine you get, as you will need one that can cover all of your depigmented areas. You may also need a machine that offers ultraviolet A light, ultraviolet B light, or narrowband UVB light, depending on what your doctor wants you to try and what type of vitiligo you have.
While expensive at first, after just two years of regular use, the home machines may become cheaper than going to an office for treatment. Note that some insurance companies offer a reimbursement system, so you should try to get your machine covered if you choose to go this route.
If you take medications to treat vitiligo, you may be able to change some aspects of your prescription to save money.
For instance, if you can get a 90-day supply instead of a 30-day supply, you may pay less. Similarly, if there is a generic available for your medication and your doctor believes it will work to treat your vitiligo, you are likely to pay less for that than you would for the brand-name medication.
Many newer medications aren’t available as generics. This is because the drug companies that paid to develop them are allowed to retain patents on the drugs for a number of years to recoup the costs of research and testing. In this case, you may need to wait until a generic becomes available to use this particular method for saving.
Simply making a few phone calls can help you find a better price for your medications or other interventions for vitiligo. Just because you’ve always used your particular pharmacy or medical equipment provider does not mean they’re giving you the best possible deal on your treatment options.
While it can be a hassle to call different pharmacies in your area every time you get a new prescription, you can end up saving significantly. In addition, check with your insurance company. They may offer you better deals at certain pharmacies than at others.
GoodRx offers a tool where you can enter the name of your medication and see how much it will cost at different pharmacies near you. GoodRx also offers information about any assistance programs and discount cards that may be available for your medications.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t have to drive too far to get your medication. Choosing a pharmacy relatively close by will help ensure your gas or transportation costs don’t exceed your savings. You may also want to weigh the time and effort of tracking different prescriptions at different pharmacies against any savings you might reap. Make sure you’re willing to go through some hassle before you start getting prescriptions from different pharmacies.
Discount medical cards can offer great ways to save. These cards are used independently of your insurance. You can use them even if you do have health insurance coverage, but you won’t use that coverage and a drug card at the same time.
The companies that make these cards negotiate prices for certain medications. Larger, more well-known card providers will usually have the leverage to negotiate lower prices than smaller, lesser-known providers.
The price you will end up paying for your medication will include this negotiated price, a small amount that goes back to the pharmacy, and a small amount for the company that produces the card. There may be other fees, depending on the specific card you’re using.
Read the terms carefully before signing up for one of these cards, as some are scams. Before you decide to use one, make sure it:
You’ll likely need to shop around before you find a card that gives you the discount you need on the medications you take the most. If you can find one, you may save quite a bit of money on prescription costs.
Some nonprofit programs may offer financial assistance to access treatment for vitiligo. You may qualify to receive your medications for free or at a reduced cost. Your doctor can support your application for one of these programs by providing information about your condition and explaining your need for a specific medication.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America offers an online tool called Medicine Assistance Tool where you can submit the name of your medication and some information about your background, and it will direct you to programs that might help. NeedyMeds is another site where you can find a variety of nonprofit resources to aid with medication costs.
If you’re struggling to pay for your vitiligo medications or you’re worried about how you’re going to manage financially, talk to your dermatologist. Your provider may have alternative treatments available. They may also refer you to clinical trials (which may allow you to access potential treatments at no cost) or have connections or resources you wouldn’t hear about any other way.
Are you or a loved one living with vitiligo? Consider joining MyVitiligoTeam today. Here, on the online social network for people who live with vitiligo and those who love and care for them, you can share your story, read what others share, offer advice, and more. You’ll build a team of people from around the world who will help you improve your self-esteem and overall sense of wellness throughout your journey with vitiligo.
Have you had difficulty paying for vitiligo treatments? Have you found cost-saving methods? Share your story or tips in the comments below or by posting on MyVitiligoTeam.