Bioethics Blogs

A Cure So Expensive No One Can Afford It

In December 2013, the FDA approved Sovaldi® (sofosbuvir, Gilead Sciences, Inc.) for treatment of hepatitis C. A truly wonderful medical breakthrough, the oral drug effectively cures 90% of patients who take it correctly. The online physician resource Web site Medscape has referred to this drug as a “game changer.” Clearly it will change the health care delivery game in any number of ways.

But the miracle comes with a catch: the cost is prohibitive. The full treatment course is so expensive that very few can afford it even with good health insurance. Each pill costs about $1000; patients will need to take the medicine once a day for about 12 weeks for a full course. The total cost will be about $90-120,000 per patient. Many are asking how is it possible to justify the cost? Is this fair?

Of course, the principal difficulty at first glace is that the costs will strain the system to a degree never before seen with the introduction of a new drug. The strain may break the bank. Recently Reuters has reported that one Florida health insurer – WellCare Health Plans – has sustained significant corporate losses attributable to the fact that Florida requires insurers to prove sofosbuvir to Medicaid patients. It has been reported that 47 state Medicaid programs are covering the drug, and about half have some form of preauthorization. Illinois Medicaid has recently changed its preauthorization criteria to provide the drug only to those patients with advanced liver disease, and to those who can tolerate interferon as an adjunctive treatment, and to exclude individuals with a history of alcohol or drug abuse.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.