Stop whining: Insurers and the high price hype of Hepatitis C
Thursday, July 31, 2014
There has been a lot of fuss in the media over the price of the newest treatment options for Hepatitis C, a condition affecting around 3 million Americans. Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) by Gilead costs $84,000 for a 12-week course of therapy. Their competitor Olysio (simeprevir) by Janssen comes in around $66,000 for the same 12 weeks.
That's nothing to sneeze at, especially when you consider the fact that some physicians are combining the two (not yet an approved approach) to get even better cure rates for their patients. This high price tag has caused many players in the market to moan and cry, particularly the insurance companies who have to come up with ways to pay the bill.
Though I admit that the price for these products is a pretty penny, I personally am a bit tired of the whining, bellyaching and complaining I hear. What we’re talking about here is a cure — a cure! Such breakthroughs don't come around too often.
While most pharmaceutical treatments can do little more than manage a disease, subjecting patients to a lifetime of therapy, these new medicines appear to offer a short 12-week journey back to total health. Spread out the benefit of being free of Hepatitis C over the course of say their next 40 years, and these patients have a new life given to them for less than $6 a day.
But aside from the immediate financial return on investment, there are a variety of other reasons that these corporate crybabies need to grow up, wipe away their tears and look a little more clearly at what is going on. Stop whining and listen up.
Do those complaining the loudest have any clue about the costs involved in developing a drug these days? Take sofosbuvir, for example. In order to acquire the opportunity to further test and hopefully get approval for this product, Gilead purchased the developing company at a cost of $11 billion. That doesn't account for any further development, approval and marketing costs. It also doesn't take into account the huge risk that this drug could have been an utter flop.
Do those complaining the loudest know that the prescription drug market is only 11 percent of our national spending on healthcare? Any comprehensive plan to address the rising costs of healthcare should certainly include some focus on this 11 percent, but in it is getting far more attention than is appropriate for this proportion.
Why? It is easy to pick on big drug companies. But what about hospitals or physician services that, combined, account for 53 percent of our healthcare spending? Complaining about the price of pharmaceuticals is like complaining about the $10 hot dog at a sporting event you just paid $100 to attend.
Do those complaining the loudest remember that the pharmaceutical market has brought patients $4 (or sometimes free) generic medications? I wonder if they remember it is pharmacy that has produced prescription discount cards from manufacturers, dramatically lowering out-of-pocket costs for Americans.
In fact, patients actually spent less for pharmaceuticals in 2012 than they had in six decades according to a report released last year. And when a shortage of pharmacists drove up wages, the pharmacy school industry responded (probably over-responded) to pump out more pharmacists and virtually freeze wage increases.
Tell me, when was the last time you saw an MRI on a $4 list at your doctor's office? When have you ever even walked into a waiting room or hospital and seen actual prices posted for services? Any dentists run specials on root canals like "buy one get one free"? Found any coupons for a free day in the hospital? How about home delivery, staying open on nights and weekends and holidays?
My point is that there is no player in the healthcare space that has done more to drive down costs and offer more services than pharmacy. Stop whining about one expensive drug.
OK, maybe my ranting is as annoying as whining. If so, I guess I'm guilty as charged. But for now I'm convinced the tissues and tears are a waste of time.
Stop whining. Pay the bill. Move on and find something else to complain about.
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