Insurers spend millions to cover ivermectin prescriptions, study shows

Spending occurs despite lacking evidence of ivermectin’s effectiveness.

Commercial insurers and Medicare together may have paid nearly $130 million towards the costs of ivermectin prescriptions in 2021, despite lack of evidence that the drug is an effective treatment for COVID-19, a new study shows.

Researchers analyzed commercial and Medicare coverage for 67,520 ivermectin prescriptions dispensed during the week of August 13, 2021. They found that reimbursements totaled about $2.49 million, with an estimated $1.56 million of that paid by private plans and $925,000 paid by Medicare plans. Extrapolated on an annual basis, the reimbursements would add up to approximately $129.7 million.

“Findings suggest that insurers heavily subsidized the cost of ivermectin prescriptions for COVID-19, even though economic theory holds that insurers should not cover ineffective care,” they write.

To put insurance spending on ivermectin in perspective, the authors observe that it exceeds Medicare’s estimated annual spending on unnecessary imaging for low back pain, which they describe as “a low-value service that has received extensive attention.” In addition, by making it easier to obtain a drug used as a substitute for COVID-19 vaccination or other evidence-based care, insurance coverage could be increasing spending for COVID-19 complications, they note.

The authors suggest that insurers could prevent much of this wasted spending by restricting ivermectin coverage through methods such as requiring prior authorizations for its use.

The study, “US Insurer Spending on Ivermectin Prescriptions for COVID-19,” was published January 13 as a Research Letter in JAMA Online.