Insurers have spent millions on ivermectin, which hasn’t been proven yet to work against COVID-19

Researchers find insurers may be paying for ivermectin prescriptions amounting to nearly $130M annually

A box of ivermectin is shown in a pharmacy
A box of ivermectin is shown in a pharmacy as pharmacists work in the background, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Georgia. Mike Stewart/AP Photo

Ivermectin, a drug few people knew about before the coronavirus pandemic, has become so popular that health insurers are spending millions of dollars to fill prescriptions sought by doctors and their patients.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, and podcast host Joe Rogan have touted the drug as a way to prevent and treat COVID-19 — despite federal regulators warning against it this summer.

An analysis of pharmacy dispensing data by a University of Michigan researcher looked at a week in August when 88,000 prescriptions for the antiparasitic drug were filled, compared to only 3,600 prescriptions in a week for ivermectin before the pandemic.

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Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, from the University of Michigan Medical School, along with researchers from Boston University determined insurers in the United States spent $2.5 million on ivermectin for the week of Aug. 13, according to a study published in JAMA.

“There’s no reason to believe scabies and lice have increased 30-fold during the pandemic,” Chua said when asked what accounts for the sharp rise in use of the drug.

The analysis found insures may be spending nearly $130 million annually on the drug, which has not been approved by federal regulators to treat COVID-19.

Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic, which treats patients in Wisconsin, is not prescribing ivermectin for patients hoping to ward off the disease or treat mild symptoms, said Mayo Clinic Dr. Conor Loftus.

“The short answer is Mayo is not using ivermectin for this purpose,” Loftus said. “There has been no substantial evidence to date that ivermectin is effective for COVID-19.”

Warnings against human use are shown on an IverCare brand box containing a syringe of ivermectin
Warnings against human use are shown on an IverCare brand box containing a syringe of ivermectin — a drug used to kill worms and other parasites — intended for use in horses only, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Olympia, Wash. Health experts and medical groups are pushing to stamp out the growing use of the parasite drug to treat COVID-19, warning that it can cause harmful side effects and that there’s little evidence it helps. Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

Ivermectin is part of a nationwide study on COVID-19 treatments which is being led by doctors at Duke University with funding from the National Institutes of Health. Loftus said if there is solid evidence in the future showing ivermectin or any other treatment works against COVID-19, the health system will consider using it.

Until then, authors who did the cost-analysis study published in JAMA say their findings suggest “insurers could prevent substantial waste by restricting ivermectin coverage; for example, by requiring prior authorization.”