A newly approved medication for postpartum depression could mark a major advance for new mothers – if they can access the drug.
Called brexanolone, the drug is the first ever that’s specifically approved to treat postpartum depression. The condition affects one in nine women, who experience feelings of worthlessness and disconnect from their new baby. The condition can be easy to miss, largely because symptoms of new motherhood such as sleeplessness and fatigue can also be symptoms of postpartum depression. Untreated, the condition can undermine a mother’s ability to bond and care for her baby or herself. In extreme cases, it can lead to suicide.
Clinical trials of the new drug showed exciting – and near-instantaneous – results, with women improving as quickly as 48 hours after treatment. And those benefits lasted for months afterward. One member of the FDA advisory council that recommended approval of the drug called it “groundbreaking.” Current treatment typically includes standard antidepressants or talk therapy, both of which can require weeks to take effect.
But a few challenges remain. The new drug is infused in a hospital or inpatient setting over a period of 60 hours, which can pose logistical problems for some mothers. Cost considerations may also present a barrier. The drug is listed at $34,000 before manufacturer discounts.
For many moms with postpartum depression, therefore, the drug’s accessibility will depend largely on Medicaid and commercial health plans’ coverage policies. Health plans do not yet cover the new medicine, though the drug’s manufacturers report they are in promising conversations with insurers.
The crushing emotional and financial costs of not treating postpartum depression show why access for new moms will be critical. Mothers with postpartum depression risk developing chronic depression or being hospitalized for extreme symptoms. Their babies, meanwhile, can struggle with eating, sleeping and behavior as they grow older. Other siblings in the home may also be affected.
Yet, despite the condition’s impact, only an abysmal 15 percent of mothers with postpartum get treatment. Now it’s up to health plans to change that – by putting into place coverage policies that allow new mothers to access proven and potentially life-changing treatment.