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The Dirty Dollar Details About Sovaldi Drug Prices (Part 1 of 3): Paying in Cash

Ever since the FDA approved Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), and its price was announced – $1,000 per pill – healthcare advocates, health insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, consumer groups, and politicians have been up in arms. Its cost, for the usual prescription of 84 pills, is about $31,000 more than the median annual household income in the United States, which is about $53,000. How could a 12-week drug treatment plan cost $84,000?! Well, the manufacturer of Sovaldi, Gilead Sciences, can charge whatever it wants since there is no equivalent brand drug or generic on the market and the U.S. government, by law, cannot legally negotiate drug prices for Medicare.

The costs to treat Hep C don’t stop with Sovaldi by the way. Depending on the genotype of a person’s Hep C, Sovaldi is prescribed as part of a medication cocktail that also includes either ribavirin or ribavirin and an Interferon treatment. Total prices for treatment can reach $160,000 but we’ll just focus on Sovaldi so as not to bite off more than we can chew.

This Twilight Zone approach to pricing Sovaldi and other specialty medications pumps up the rage volume to a frightening anti-pharma crescendo, but now a moment of silence: Thank you scientists, medical researchers, and dedicated people at Gilead for developing this truly awesome medication and bringing it to market. Sovaldi actually cures Hepatitis C, a disease that afflicts about 3.2 million Americans! Rock on Gilead! Gilead and its shareholders should and shall be rewarded handsomely.

Despite this, Gilead and the Big Pharma Gang should not be allowed to threaten the American healthcare system with obscene prices, even for their wonder drugs. Is Gilead really expecting to be paid $84,000 to treat 3.2 million people: a cost of $268 billion? That is more money than the gross national products of 150 countries! Finland’s annual economic output in 2013 was $257 billion. On to the dirty dollar details… (more…)

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Are Truvada Prices An Obstacle to Americans at High Risk for HIV?

AIDS prevention may be revolutionized if healthcare providers start to write more prescriptions for Truvada as a preventative measure for people at high risk for contracting HIV. As reported in the The New York Times, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pushing for expanded use of Truvada as a prophylactic to prevent new HIV cases. To date, it has been primarily used to treat people who have already contracted HIV. If this recommendation is adopted, the number of prescriptions written for Truvada could increase from less than 10,000 per year to 500,000 per year, hopefully lowering the rate of new HIV infections, which has remained steady at 50,000 per year over the past decade.

But what if patients can’t access Truvada because of its cost? After all, a drug doesn’t work if a patient can’t afford to take it. The drug has a monthly cash price of about $1,500 at local U.S. pharmacies. Fortunately, Truvada is usually covered by insurance and Gilead offers an assistance program that covers the first $200 of a co-pay. They also have a program that covers the full cost of the drug for eligible uninsured or underinsured patients. Eligibility is not guaranteed to all!

Even if you’re insured and prescribed Truvada, the high cost might mean difficulties when it comes time to fill the prescription. Many pharmacy benefit formularies put the drug in tier 2 or 3, which means high co-pays. Other formularies place Truvada on a list of drugs that require pre-certification. In that case, the drug might not even be covered at all!

According to FiercePharma, dramatic increases in the number of prescriptions written for Truvada (and therefore requests for pharmacy benefit reimbursements) could increase co-pays and also curtail assistance programs. If that happens, patients may find themselves having to fork over a lot of cash for higher copays, deductibles or co-insurance. Some may very well end up stuck with a $1,500 per month bill.

For these patients, or anyone else who falls through the cracks, international online pharmacies may be an option. Truvada – the brand – is available for about $543.00 internationally; the generic – emtricitabine/tenofovir – not yet available in U.S. pharmacies, is $224.00. This could provide a lifeline for Americans who are prescribed Truvada in the coming years.

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Stop Price Increases for H.I.V. and AIDS Prescriptions

Last summer we reported on the prohibitive costs of AIDS and H.I.V. drugs in America. Due to high drug prices, plus overcrowded and inefficient AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, individuals suffering from these diseases live in fear, not knowing if they will get the meds they need. Sadly, the problem has gotten worse.

A recent discussion on an AIDS/H.I.V. community web forum is what caught our attention. In that forum’s thread entitled “Links to Stop White House from Blocking Online Pharmacies”, outspoken members have voiced outrage over recent price hikes of critical HIV medications.

As reported by the AIDS and H.I.V. advocacy website and monthly magazine, Gilead Sciences, a major manufacturer of AIDS and H.I.V. prescription drugs, has increased prices for its top HIV medications. “Atripla increased by 5.1 percent, and Truvada and Emtriva increased by 7.9 percent.” Comparing prices for these drugs at a local New York bricks and mortar pharmacy to licensed and verified foreign pharmacies, one finds substantial price discrepancies:

Drug Prices for a Three-Month Supply

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