Often referred to as “miracle drugs”, the ads for new medications are almost inescapable.
But the newer medications don’t come cheap.
“Prime example of that is Hepatitis C, where we have about 70-thousand individuals in our state. Only 320 of those individuals got drug treatment last year,” State Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee told the Baton Rouge Press Club.
“If we were to treat everyone in this state – which I believe we should – it would cost us $760-million.”
Dr. Gee has been serving on a national panel looking for ways to encourage medical research while making the treatments resulting from that research affordable to those who need them.
“I think we are reaching a national tipping point,” she said Monday. “The public are getting tired of this, and it is time for a rational discussion about how to continue innovations and the research enterprise. But also, how do we get more fair shake for American who need drugs and for states who have to pay for them?”
Gee notes that other countries with national health care plans negotiate prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers.
“Basically, in the U.S. -- which is different from other countries -- companies are able to price at whatever the market will bear. So you want to charge $90-thousand for Hep C treatment? Charge $90-thousand. Their incentive is maximize profit.”
One company reported $26-billion in profits from its Hepatitis C treatment last year – a 12-week course of pills that has a 95-99% cure rate for the virus.
But, Gee says, the cost is so prohibitive that Louisiana has to ration who gets it. And right now, the state can only afford to provide it to those who have developed full-blown liver damage from Hep C, a condition known as cirrhosis.
“Why does the company have to make so much money every year?” Gee wonders. “Surely there’s a way for drug companies to still make money – and a lot of it – but also for us to not have individuals suffer and die needlessly because of the prices being too high.”