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Who Should Get Pricey Hepatitis C Drugs?

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Gilead Defends ‘Fair’ Price

The hepatitis drugs are not the most expensive drugs on the market, but their prices are of concern because of the large number of people infected with the virus.

Sovaldi costs $84,000 for a 12-week treatment, although some patients will need to take the drugs for 24 weeks. Olysio is about $66,000 for a 12-week treatment, but is approved for fewer types of patients. Other drugs must often be used with the two new products, adding to the cost.

Drugmakers defend the pricing, saying the treatments are curative, and can prevent the need for other costly care, such as liver transplants.

“Gilead believes that the price of Sovaldi is fair based on the value it represents to a larger number of patients,” Gilead spokeswoman Michele Rest said.

Demand has been strong so far. On April 22, Gilead reported that Sovaldi sales hit $2.3 billion in the first three months of the year, a record-breaking launch for a drug.

Insurers and consumer advocates hope increased competition will result in lower prices for the next round of hepatitis C drugs expected out later this year and next, but that is by no means guaranteed.

More Hepatitis Patients Expected

No one expects all those infected with the hepatitis C virus to seek treatment: At present, most people with the virus don’t even know they have it, one of the reasons why fewer than 20 percent have sought treatment with the older regimens.

More patients are expected to be diagnosed, however, as health officials urge baby boomers to get tested. The blood-borne virus is spread mainly by intravenous drug use, although many people were unknowingly infected by poorly sterilized medical equipment and blood transfusions before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992. 

Policymakers say the cost of treating even half of those infected could raise premiums for everyone with private insurance.

In an earnings call last month, UnitedHealthcare, one of the nation's largest insurers, said it spent $100 million on hepatitis C treatments in the first quarter of the year, far more than it had expected.

Fri, May 02 2014

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