If you're among the 10% of Americans with the most common type of eczema, called atopic dermatitis, you might assume your condition will fade quickly and cheaply. But it's a chronic autoimmune condition, so its expenses are ongoing. And they might be higher than you think.
People with atopic dermatitis said their out-of-pocket costs for it averaged about $600 a year, according to a study by the National Eczema Association (NEA). You might find that manageable. But it gets trickier for the 42% who spend $1,000 or more annually on the condition and the 8.5% who part with $5,000 and up.
You can avoid expensive surprises, though, if you plan for and manage the costs of your eczema treatment.
Expect an annual checkup with a dermatologist, plus other visits when you have a bad flare-up. On average, deductibles and copays from those specialist visits total $121 a year, according to the Journal of Dermatological Treatment. People with eczema attacks so bad they go to an emergency room may spend another $683 out of pocket.
Most private health insurance plans and Medicare Part B cover dermatologist visits and eczema treatments if your doctor says they're “medically necessary.” But other treatments, including cosmetic ones, probably aren't covered. Check with your doctor’s office and insurer before an appointment.
Moisturizer will become part of your daily routine, so get used to it. Your doctor may recommend you apply it twice daily to prevent dryness and cracking and reduce your need for medications. Some people prefer petroleum jelly, which is inexpensive and has no strong fragrance.
Try different ointments, creams, and lotions from the drugstore until you find one you like. Look for products with the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance.
While over-the-counter products might cost only $6 to $25 at a time, you might spend a few hundred dollars or more each year since you’re moisturizing daily.
Other things people with eczema commonly buy at a drugstore or grocery store include:
It would be great if a drugstore moisturizer knocked out your eczema by itself. But that doesn’t usually happen. Nine of 10 people in the NEA study take at least one prescription for atopic dermatitis, and 58% take three or more. Out-of-pocket prescription costs run $76 or more per year.
Your doctor may decide you need:
Corticosteroid creams or ointments. You apply these before moisturizer to control itching and repair skin. A search online found a cream with the corticosteroid prednisone for $25 (a 30% insurance copay would be $7.50) and an ointment for $7.39 (with a $2.22 copay).
Other anti-inflammatory medications you put on your skin. These meds for mild to moderate eczema include pimecrolimus (Elidel) cream and tacrolimus (Protopic) ointment. They're costlier than corticosteroids. You can find Elidel online for $78 ($23.40 copay) and Protopic for $38 ($11.40 copay). You might pay less if you search for discount coupons.
Oral corticosteroids. These are for people whose eczema is more serious. A supply of 10 tablets with prednisone can be found online for as little as $2 (60-cent copay).
Always compare prices for your medications among pharmacies and online. And research discount coupons, even if you use insurance. Also, check whether the drug company that makes your medicine offers a medication assistance program. NeedyMeds and RxAssist can help you find programs that assist with prescription costs.
If those medications don’t soothe your symptoms, your doctor may recommend stronger steps like:
- Phototherapy, in which your skin is exposed to ultraviolet light at your dermatologist’s office, a hospital, or a special treatment center. You may need two to three sessions a week for several months.
Health insurance usually covers phototherapy if a doctor says your eczema hasn't responded to other treatment. That’s lucky, since phototherapy regimens can cost several thousand dollars.
- Counseling for stress caused by your eczema, or behavior modification therapy to help you stop habitual scratching. In the U.S., a psychotherapy session usually costs $100-$200. Check whether your insurance plan covers a session 100%, makes you pick up part of the fee, or doesn’t cover mental health therapy at all.
Don’t let the costs of managing your atopic dermatitis treatment creep up on you. Research the prices of your treatments and shop around, so you can devote your full attention to relief from your symptoms.
If you need help paying for doctor visits, see if the U.S. government offers free or low-cost medical clinics in your area. You can also apply to get free or reduced-price care at Hill-Burton facilities in many states. The Patient Advocate Foundation has a directory of resources to help people who are uninsured or underinsured.