Hepatitis C drug pricing issues overshadow effectiveness
Thursday, March 03, 2016
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 3.2 million Americans are infected with the hepatitis C virus, and without treatment 15 to 30 percent of these individuals will develop cirrhosis.
Many people who are infected with the hepatitis C virus may not display any symptoms until it progresses to liver damage, which can occur over the span of decades. Others present with chronic HCV, a viral liver disease that has the potential to lead to liver cancer and liver failure.
The approvals of specific drugs to treat hepatitis C — such as Harvoni, Sovaldi and Olysio — were viewed as a sign of hope and possibility for many who have long suffered from chronic hepatitis C (HCV). However, it is the price tag of these drugs, not their level of effectiveness, that has been in the spotlight since their FDA approval.
For instance, when Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) was approved, it was quoted to be $1,000 per tablet with a 12-week regimen that was estimated to cost a patient approximately $84,000. Harvoni, the combination of sofosbuvir and ledipasvir, came on the heels of Sovaldi and was priced at $1,120 per tablet.
As a result, many insurance companies — as well as Medicare and Medicaid — are attempting to determine how to address the expense of treating individuals with hepatitis C. Many state Medicaid programs are unable to afford the cost of acquiring and treating patients with these hepatitis C medications.
The pricing issues serve to limit the number of patients, with some states restricting use to only those patients who are considered to be the most sick or have an advanced case of liver disease. In the meantime, states have turned to screening processes and rationing the use of the drugs, which helps to manage their budgets.
Additionally, the limitations on who can and who cannot be treated has only served to fuel Congress' efforts to address the issue of high drug prices and bring better control and affordability of drugs to the general public — particularly those who have chronic or debilitating conditions.
From the perspective of the manufacturers, steps are also being taken to address the growing cost of drugs. Merck recently announced its plans to set a price of $54,000 for the 12-week course of its new hepatitis drug, Zepatier. The company hopes to increase access to the drugs and aid in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus in the United States and reduce the associated burden.
Through ongoing efforts by consumers, manufacturers and government, the availability of these hepatitis C medications to those who are infected with the disease can become a possibility.
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