There are 150 million estimated cases of Hepatitis C in the world.  Up to now, there was no cure for the disease, which, if left untreated, can scar the liver and later cause cancer.   

Now however, the pharmaceutical company Gilead has developed a very effective drug, that not only cures Hepatitis C in a few months in 90% of the cases, but it is also safe and with very few side effects.  

With a potential market of 150 million sufferers, one would think that Gilead would benefit greatly from wide distribution of the drug.  But there is a glitch: the drug regimen tops 85,000$ for the course, a sum that even the insurance companies in developed countries are balking at.  If insurers start to decline the treatment due to cost, who has access to the expensive remedy?

As time goes by, medical choices and treatment are more governed by profits each day than by any other factor.  Both the medical community and the pharmaceutical corporation have upped the ante when it comes to fees and drug costs.

The news that the valuable new treatment presents staggering costs to both insured and uninsured has created a groundswell of protest.  And that is because Hepatitis C sufferers are in large numbers poor or from low income households.  

The grass root protests have been joined by Congress, who has opened an inquiry on the matter. At a time when president Obama is trying to make medical care and insurance affordable, the new medication is an indication of how commercial goals will run contrary to that effort.  Congress in fact, has queried Gilead to explain why the course of treatment is so expensive, i.e., the justification for charging 1,000 per pill for the medication. 

Health Insurance companies are also joining in.  Many insurance companies are fed up with having to foot the outrageous costs of new medication, and the fact that the pharmaceutical companies try to justify such costs, which the insurer must bear for its clients, in the name of quickly recapturing the research and development costs for the drug, and future ones.

The system of health care in the US could suffer greatly if pharmaceutical companies continue to introduce vital medication at dizzying costs.  One of the international agencies that has petitioned Gilead to reduce costs is Medicines Sans Frontieres, a large medical aid and rescue organization that has in depth knowledge of medical needs in underdeveloped countries.  The World Health Organization has also joined MSF's effort so that the medication can become accessible to poorer people.

Gilead for their part defends the price by saying that although pricery, their product saves the insurer or patient money in the long run, because it cures the disease. Such an outrageous defence of their pricing policies and the above statement has caused even greater outrage.

Many feel that the price has been set on the medicine's value to the patient.  And that is even more frightening.  If the future of medicines is set on the value of life, there is no teling what the cost of medicine may become.

Already the cost of medicines is prohibitive, due to a system that while created to protect American pharmaceutical interests, has instead fostered a close system that hampers competition and ill serves patients.  Medicines under initial patents are constantly introduced and foisted onto patients in lieu of equally efficient drugs that have become avaialbe in generics.  That policy, which ensures enormous profits to the pharmaceuticals companies, has all but shut out some patients from receiving the cures that they need.  

Although there are other pharmaceutical companies that are coming out with similar drugs for hepatitis C, until they come online, there is no other alternative than the pricey cure. 

The Congress inquiry however, has caused Gilead's stock to tumble for now.  In fact, close scrutiny of the pharmaceutical sector affects all similar companies.  The Hepatitis medication, called Sovaldi, is projected to bring in 8 billion dollars in revenue this year alone, making it the leading worldwide medication in terms of sales. 

It is exactly these kind of profits that worry lawmakers and insurers alike.  This could be an indication of future trends when it comes to the introduction of vital medicaiton.  


Source : WebMD/ npr/Kaiser P/LA Times/ 4.22.14

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