Most Americans suffering from hepatitis C must pay $1350 for each and every pill of the newly designed drug Harvoni, compared to last year when doctors’ favourite drug, Sovaldi, cost “only” $1000 a pill. Harvoni had already accounted for three quarters of the Hepatitis C prescriptions made in this year’s first three months. This more expensive alternative has been introduced by the same pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences. With hepatitis C being more deadly than HIV and claiming 3 million patients in the US, the similarities between the marketing strategies of Apple and that of some pharmaceutical companies seem rather dismaying: paying more for the latest drug may not be as justifiable as in the case of the latest iPhone.
More patients each year
The number of patients who report suffering from hepatitis C has risen over the years and in the last year only, the number of released prescriptions has doubled. According to doctor Douglas Dieterich at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, this happened due to an increase in the willingness of people to be treated. While this seems to be due to the efficiency of newer drugs which have less adverse effects, the fact is that results are the same if not worse in terms of the curing rates. “When I started in 1989, I used to have a 3 percent cure rate. Now I have a 3 percent failure rate,” said doctor Dietrich. In this case, why should people buy more expensive drugs?
Low competition and high demand allow for high cost of pill
Harvoni seems to have obvious advantages compared to other hepatitis C drugs in terms of its low impact on the patient’s lifestyle. It only needs to be taken once a day and for a maximum of 12 weeks, without requiring the simultaneous administration of other drugs. By comparison, its cheaper competitor, Viekira Pak, should be taken four times daily. While the latter is reported to be equally effective, simplicity seems to be the main factor in choosing drug treatments. But choosing exorbitantly expensive drugs just for the sake of easy administration seems like a weak argument.
DRX surveys of private health plans indicate that the patients on Harvoni benefitted from a 13.7 discount between the months of April and June. Jim Yocum, the DRX executive vice president, worries that this will influence cancer drug companies in pushing for more expensive drugs on the market. In the meantime, Medicare is forbidden to have its say in the drug pricing strategies. Solutions seem scarce at this present moment, but Cara Miller, the spokeswoman for Gilead, has stated that the company is trying to widen the accessibility of its product to the public by working with private insurers.