In a previous post we talked about the fact that NOACs make a lot of people uneasy, even though the data suggests that they’re often the better choice for afib patients.
And making the right choice can be difficult, since nobody’s really taken the time to sit down and line it all up: how each drug compares to all of the other drugs. In fact, sometimes even doctors aren’t sure which one to prescribe.
After all, there are now five different anticoagulants atrial fibrillation patients have to choose from to help prevent stroke. The old standby has always been warfarin (brand name Coumadin) having been around since 1954. There are now four newer anticoagulants to choose from called novel oral anticoagulants, or NOACs for short. They are:
Brand name listed first followed by the generic, or drug name, in parenthesis.
- Xarelto (rivaroxaban)
- Eliquis (apixaban)
- Pradaxa (dabigatran)
- Savaysa (edoxaban)
What factors should you consider when choosing a blood thinner?
The High Cost of Name Brand Anticoagulants
We all have budgets so cost is the first thing you’re going to have to look at when you’re sitting down with your doctor to determine which of these anticoagulants is right for you.
Here is the break down of the average costs of these drugs in the U.S. for a 30-day supply:
- $17 for generic Warfarin (5mg once daily)
- $340 for Savaysa (60mg once daily)
- $348 for Pradaxa (150mg twice daily)
- $418 for Xarelto (20mg once daily)
- $418 for Eliquis (5mg twice daily)
Fortunately, most patients aren’t actually paying these prices. In many cases health insurance covers a portion of these costs. You’ll want to check with your insurance provider to find out which of these drugs they’ll cover and how much they’ll pay for each drug so you’ll know what your true out-of-pocket costs are going to be.
Once you’re armed with that information you can communicate with your doctor which drugs you can afford. You don’t want your doctor to prescribe a blood thinner that you simply can’t afford.
How to Get Discounts on Blood Thinners
What if your doctor recommends one of these anticoagulants and it isn’t covered by your insurance, or the coverage you have is minimal? You have a couple options.
First, most of the pharmaceutical companies behind these drugs offer patient assistance programs to help significantly lower your out-of-pocket costs. These programs are for low income or uninsured and under-insured patients who meet specific guidelines, which vary from program to program.
These programs, however, can be tricky to apply for as you have to make sure all your T’s are crossed and all your I’s are dotted or you can be denied. Also, once you’re approved you have to go through the application process every year. Still, though, if you are very careful in filling out all the forms required and can remember to renew your applications every year, these are programs definitely worth checking out as they can save you hundreds of dollars.
Here are links to the assistance programs for these blood thinners:
- Xarelto – Johnson & Johnson Patient Assistance Foundation
- Eliquis – Bristol-Myers Squibb Patient Assistance Foundation
- Pradaxa – Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation
- Savaysa – Daiichi Sankyo Open Care Program
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of applying for these programs yourself and you’d like to improve your chances of being approved (because you missed something on the application or filled something out wrong), there is another option. There is a service provided by Prescription Hope. They handle the application process for you and they take care of your annual renewals as well. Their programs provides patients access to over 1,500 brand-name medications including Eliquis, Xarelto, and Pradaxa.
Their service isn’t free, however. They charge $50/month per medication but even with that fee factored in, the cost savings you can get on these expensive name-brand drugs through the patient assistance programs can still save you a significant amount of money.
If you don’t qualify for an assistance program for the name brand drug of your choice, either directly or through a service like Prescription Hope, there is a second option – buy your drugs from Canada. I’ve done some research and the best prices I can find from Canadian pharmacies online are from YouDrugStore.com.
I buy my prescription drugs from them because I can buy them cheaper through them than I can even with my prescription insurance coverage here in the U.S.!
Here are the prices you’ll pay for a 30-day supply of these blood thinners at YouDrugStore.com:
- $141.98 for Pradaxa (150mg twice daily)
- $299.98 for Xarelto (20mg once daily; must buy 90 day supply so less than $100/month)
- $138.34 for Eliquis (5mg twice daily)
Prices as of 11/26/19. Savaysa not available.
How Effective Are Blood Thinners?
After cost considerations, the effectiveness of each of these drugs is an important consideration.
There are studies which compare individual NOACs to warfarin. The statistics say that the outcome is usually better for NOAC patients than for warfarin patients.
There is no real data, however, to compare the efficacy of one NOAC to another.
Some patients have other illnesses which prevent them from being able to take a NOAC so doctors are left with only one choice – warfarin.
And still some doctors are reluctant to prescribe the NOACs because they haven’t been on the market very long so they tend to favor warfarin.
One factor in the effectiveness of these drug is you. Doctors look at how likely you are to remember to take your medication. Eliquis is a twice-daily medication where Xarelto is a once-daily medication.
In fact, if you tend to be absent-minded doctors do, again, like going back to warfarin…if only because they know that this will put you under their watchful eye. Warfarin requires regular monitoring.
Anticoagulants and Kidney Function
Any kidney dysfunction in your body could have a serious impact on which drugs are right for you. NOACs are cleared by the kidneys. That means your bleeding risk goes up as your kidney function grows less effective.
People with kidney problems can tolerate Xarelto in low doses, as long as they take it with the evening meal. “Low doses” just means that you’re taking it down from 20 mg daily to 15 mg daily.
You can do the same with Pradaxa, but you have to lower the 150 mg dose down to 75 mg.
But when it comes to kidney patients, Eliquis might be the clear winner. You don’t even have to reduce the dose for Eliquis unless the patient has end-stage renal disease, and are on dialysis, and weigh less than 132 pounds, or are older than 80.
The Risks of Bleeding When Taking Blood Thinners
Blood thinners are designed to make it harder for your blood to clot. Unfortunately, this means opening yourself up to problems when, well, you really need your blood to clot.
Warfarin has an antidote. So if you get into a car accident and need to go into surgery, they can get your blood temporarily back to normal so that you don’t bleed out.
NOACs are working on similar antidotes, but they don’t have them yet. Some doctors do note, however, that specific antidotes are really all that is missing.
“While specific antidotes for each are on the very near horizon, they may be reversed with infusion of prothrombin complex concentrate,” he told MedPage Today. “With the expected rapid approval of direct inhibitors of each drug — which literally work within a matter of minutes — this issue should be resolved once and for all.”
Once reversal agents become commercial available, “then I don’t think there’s going to be that much of a role for warfarin at all” if patients aren’t already on it and doing well, Kirtane said.
5/14/18 UPDATE:All three of the major NOACs (Xarelto, Eliquis, and Pradaxa) have antidotes. Pradaxa’s antidote is known by the brand name, Praxbind, and the generic name, idarucizumab. The antidote for Xarelto and Eliquis is named Andexxa.
Which NOAC/Blood Thinner is Best?
The answer to this isn’t as cut and dry as you would think. The best NOAC, or blood thinner, is the one that is best for your unique health condition and situation. For some, Xarelto will work best. For others, Eliquis will be the best choice. And still others will do best on warfarin (or for whatever reason warfarin may be the only option).
There was a study published in November 2017, however, that demonstrated Eliquis as being the best NOAC for non-valvular atrial fibrillation. You can read about that study here.
Are you on warfarin? Are you doing well? Are you on NOACs? What’s your experience? Which drug did you ultimately choose?
Please share your comments and observations below.