What if we woke up tomorrow to the headline: Drug Company Cures Alzheimer’s? What would you pay to get your hands on that drug? I know of no one that hasn’t been touched in some way by this disease. Tomorrow won’t bring us that news but I believe it will in the future. So, how much would you pay? And if you can’t afford it, should the government step in and pay to heal you, your mom, your dad, your sibling or best friend? Should the drug company be required to give up the drug for the good of the world? Who should make those decisions? Who gets to play God and who gets to play the Grim Reaper in this future drama? And who has the lead roles in today’s drama involving Hepatitis C?
Last December, the FDA approved a new drug, Solvaldi, manufactured by Gilead Science Inc. Its purpose–to cure hepatitis C, a chronic, sometimes deadly disease, that has affected over 130 million people worldwide and kills between 350,000 and 500,000 per year. And the cost of the cure: Approximately $84,000, or $1,000 a pill for a 12-week treatment course, for those afflicted in the United States while other countries are fairing much better in out-of-pocket costs. Gilread, through its president and COO, John Milligan, indicated that to date about 9,000 patients had been cured. Using this data to justify the cost of its golden cure to those questioning the costs associated with the treatment, Mr. Milligan stated in a conference call with analysts on Wednesday:
The healthcare system will save a lot of money with these people being healthy again.
So what Mr. Milligan is saying is that Solvaldi, in the long run, will save the healthcare system a lot of money by curing those that would be dependent upon the system for his/her care and whatever they decide to charge will pay for itself over time. What he doesn’t say is that Gilead Science Inc. is making billions, with analysts estimating that the drug’s first year sales will exceed $10 billion. This has caused two members of the Senate Finance Committee, Oregon’s Democratic Senator Wydan and Iowa’s Republican Senator Grassley to demand information on how Gilead went about setting the price tag on this drug at $1,000 per pill.
The criticism has come from all corners of the healthcare industry. America’s Health Insurance Plans spokesman, Brenden Buck released a statement about Gilead’s success,
While it was a blockbuster quarter for Gilead, people who can’t access the drug because of its price didn’t fare nearly as well.
Medicare, Medi-Cal, Medicaid, veterans, the uninsured and prison inmates as well as others are knocking on the door for access to this medication. Three states are refusing to fund the drug until further information about its costs are made available. Some states are privately negotiating with Gilead to bring the costs down while others states and private insurers believe that the costs will add hundreds of dollars to its employer plans, Medicaid and Medicare with the taxpayers bearing the costs.
And what does this mean for you? Higher healthcare costs unless you are in a subsidized group and then, it may mean your family might be planning your funeral while you battle for approval for a drug that is needed by the poor and middle-class and priced for the investors of Gilead.
So when that cure for Alzheimer’s is packaged into a golden pill and offered up for sale, how much will you be willing to pay?
We haven’t seen the last of Gilead–it is out to save the world one illness at a time–so long as its investors can tuck billions away for a rainy day. The New York Times reported:
Early in the day, the Food and Drug Administration approved Gilead’s drug idelalisib to treat three types of blood cancers. It will be sold under the name Zydelig.
Hepatitis C….cancer. Will you be priced out of the remainder of your life?