FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | September 4, 2014
New hepatitis C drugs could stop an epidemic that now claims more lives in the U.S. than AIDS. An estimated 250,000 New Yorkers are living with hepatitis C, a viral infection that can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. But hepatitis C can be cured with only a few months of treatment by a combination of drugs that includes Gilead’s Sovaldi as the backbone.
Gilead is selling Sovaldi for $1,000 per pill – a price that is causing treatment rationing, according to advocates. “Public and private payers are restricting access to Sovaldi because of cost, and withholding treatment from people until they have serious liver damage. We don’t force HIV-positive people to wait until they have AIDS before treating them. Should people with hepatitis C go without treatment so Gilead can make more profit?,” asked Michael Tikili of Health GAP, a global treatment access advocacy group.
Today healthcare and labor groups protested Gilead at the Baird Healthcare Conference, a prominent investor meeting, demanding that Gilead immediately reduce the price of Sovaldi, and targeting other companies who will be marketing breakthrough HCV drugs before the end of the year. The coalition includes 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East – the largest healthcare union in the nation – ACT UP New York, Health GAP, the Treatment Action Group, and VOCAL New York.
“Healthcare isn’t some wild west gold rush, we’re talking about pricing policies that are directly responsible for people dying,” said Matt Curtis, Policy Director at VOCAL New York, an activist group that represents people living with hepatitis C. “Experts have estimated that 12 weeks of Sovaldi costs well under $200 to produce, but because of Gilead’s greed U.S. states are now adopting treatment guidelines that restrict access. A markup of 40,000% doesn’t reflect ‘value’ as Gilead claims, it’s a conscious decision to prey on people desperate for a cure.”
Helen Schaub, New York State Director of Policy and Legislation for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, noted the impact on the New York State Medicaid budget. “The members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East always advocate for the best care for their patients, including the estimated 250,000 New Yorkers infected with Hepatitis C,” said Schaub. “They must have access to the treatment they need, including Sovaldi. But at $84,000 per person, this drug could cost New York State billions of dollars. We cannot let Gilead’s outrageous pricing threaten our Medicaid budget and access to healthcare for the 5.8 million New Yorkers who depend on Medicaid services. Gilead must drop the price now.”
“Gilead has ultimately limited access to life-saving drugs – and their own market – with their disgraceful approach to pricing,” said Tracy Swan, Hepatitis/HIV Project Director with the Treatment Action Group. “We know how much it really costs to produce these drugs at a reasonable profit. Other drug makers have a chance to save their drugs from falling into the poisoned well – if you make them affordable, people won’t die, they will be cured.”