Until the high costs of US health care are brought under control, actually funding the ACA will prove impossible.
One thousand dollars per pill for Sovaldi, a new Hepatitis C drug from Gilead Sciences Inc.
Okay, I know that pharmaceutical companies have to pay for research and development and testing. I know that FDA approval can be difficult. I know that the timeline for developing new drugs can be long and arduous, and many may never pan out – and every failed line of research is a corporate loss to be made up elsewhere. Yes, I get it.
But, one thousand dollars per pill?
I know that for “orphan” diseases, those rare occurrences with few patients, medications can be costly if they are ever developed at all. Pharmaceuticals are a business. All that development is expensive, and those markets are very small. Yes, I get it.
But Hepatitis C patients are not a small market, not at all. As Matthew Perrone reports for AP, an estimated 3 million to 4 million Americans – many of them HIV patients – are affected by Hepatitis C. That, according to Dr. Steve Pearson of the California Technology Assessment Forum (CTAF), is a “huge patient population.”
Mr. Perrone quotes the AIDS Healthcare Foundation: “AHF believes that the price Gilead is charging for Sovaldi is not remotely justified.” Sovaldi, they note, is 1100% more expensive than Gilead’s most expensive HIV drug, at $80 per pill. That’s not a typo. Sovaldi is one thousand one hundred percent more expensive than Gilead’s most expensive HIV drug.
This is nothing more nor less than the corporate rape of your tax dollars, an opportunity to gouge between $84,000 and $168,000 out of each of the 3 to 4 million Americans held hostage by Hepatitis C. If 3 million Americans each had just one course of the Sovaldi treatment, that would potentially put a whopping $252 billion dollars into Gilead’s coffers (to be fair, analysts predict an estimated $8 billion in sales this year, still one of the most profitable drugs in the world) . And with roughly 17,000 new cases per year, Gilead would potentially continue to reap up to some $1.4 billion annually in the US alone.
I’m with AHF: Not. Remotely. Justified.
I suspect that Gilead figures that because Hepatitis C can be devastating, because current treatments are long, because there are onerous side effects and success rates as low as 75%, and because doctors have long been seeking just such a drug as Sovaldi, they can simply “charge what the market will bear,” with little relation to their own actual costs. I suspect that Gilead thought that doctors and patients alike would clamor for Sovaldi, and what the hell – insurance would pay, or the government would pay.
Gilead guessed wrong… the market is not bearing the cost. CTAF recognized the superiority of the new drug, but declared it a “low value” drug in a cost-benefit analysis.
This is exactly why the Affordable Care Plan wasn’t the fix our health-care system needed. Government benefits and unconstitutional mandates to buy commercial insurance do not mix well with either the insurance industry or the pharmaceutical industry, which are both for-profit (For-profit seems an understatement, doesn’t it?).
Those profits ultimately come from us, the consumers. As taxpayers, we have no choice but to pay into the government funds – Medicare, Medicaid – that feed this for-profit system. As citizens under the ACA, we have no real choice but to pay for commercial insurance if we can afford it (as determined by a bureaucratic government definition). And too often, as patients, we find ourselves literally in a desperate, life-or-death situation, afraid and miserable, facing red tape or a sea of co-pays and deductibles and denials and collection actions, exactly when we are least equipped to fight against bureaucratic or corporate injustice.
Gilead has shown us that the ACA hasn’t addressed the real causes of our ridiculously high health-care costs, and one of those costs is just plain old greed. Until corporate greed is reined in, expect those costs to keep spiraling upward, out of reach of more and more Americans – even under the ACA.