The latest salvo in the war on escalating U.S.
healthcare costs came from AHIP - America's Health Insurance Plans -
and targeted Sovaldi, the new $84,000 hepatitis C treatment from
Gilead Sciences Inc.
"Sovaldi has shown tremendous results, and it's the kind of medical
innovation we need to sustain. Unfortunately, the drug's maker has
priced it at an astronomical level that is not sustainable for
consumers, innovation, or society," AHIP said on its Coverage blog.
Sovaldi is the first in a new wave of all-oral treatments for the
liver disease that has been a tremendous advance over prior
treatments. The new drug has demonstrated an ability to cure well
over 90 percent of patients in just 12 weeks or less with few side
Prior to the Sovaldi approval, hepatitis C treatments took 24 or 48
weeks, cured about 75 percent of patients and involved many more
pills as well as injectable interferon that causes flu-like symptoms
and other side effects that led many people to avoid or discontinue
But concern that hundreds of thousands of patients will seek
treatment with the Gilead drug that costs roughly $1,000 per pill
has provided a rallying point for insurers and others seeking to
rein in the skyrocketing cost of new medicines in the United States,
which has no price controls on drugs, unlike Europe and other
In its first full quarter on the market, Sovaldi had more than $2
billion in sales, shattering previous pharmaceutical records.
Cara Miller, a spokeswoman for Gilead, defended the drug's pricing
in an emailed statement: "While Sovaldi greatly enhances the
standard of care for hepatitis C, it was priced such that the total
regimen cost is equal to that of prior standard of care regimens.
"Sovaldi reduces total treatment costs for HCV – taking into account
the cost of medications (including those for side effects or
complications) and healthcare visits – and it represents a finite
cure, an important point to consider when comparing the price of a
pill or bottle to the lifetime costs of treating a chronic disease."
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The campaign against Gilead may also be an effort to pressure other
drugmakers, such as Merck & Co, AbbVie and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co,
before they set prices for their hepatitis C drugs that are expected
to gain regulatory approval in the next year or two.
AHIP said promising new drugs are being priced in a way that
threatens Americans' access to them. "We need to find a solution
that ensures important drugs like Sovaldi are priced at sustainable
levels so that we can foster even more life-saving innovation."
John Castellani, chief executive of PhRMA, the leading
pharmaceutical industry trade group, said the problem is an
insurance system that pushes too much of the cost of treatment onto
the patient with high co-pays and deductibles for drugs.
"The insurance model makes medicine seem like the most expensive
part of the healthcare system," Castellani said.
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot and Caroline Humor; Additional reporting
by Ken Wills; Editing by Ken Wills)
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