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The Mega Costs Of Miracle Drugs

Super expensive miracle drugs.  How much can we afford to pay? Plus, a look at a powerful new painkiller making headlines.

In this Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012 file photo, employees of the New Hampshire state health department set up a temporary clinic at the the middle school in Stratham, N.H., to test hundreds of people for hepatitis C related to an outbreak at nearby Exeter Hospital. A new drug, Sovaldi, is said to successful treat more than 90 percent of Hepatitis C patients. (AP)

In this Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012 file photo, employees of the New Hampshire state health department set up a temporary clinic at the the middle school in Stratham, N.H., to test hundreds of people for hepatitis C related to an outbreak at nearby Exeter Hospital. A new drug, Sovaldi, is said to successful treat more than 90 percent of Hepatitis C patients. (AP)

We all know drugs can be super-expensive in the USA, but how about this for a pharmacy bill?  The hottest new treatment for hepatitis C costs $1,000 a pill.  Eighty-four thousand dollars for a twelve-week course.  About three million Americans have hepatitis C.  Do the math.  Treat all those people and the whole system topples over.  Billions and billions.  But our system has no automatic brakes.  Americans want the best in drug therapies.  But as new drug prices climb, how far can we go?  When do we hit a wall?  Is it now?  This hour On Point:  super-expensive drugs, and the American way of health care.

— Tom Ashbrook

Guests

James Surowiecki, staff writer at the New Yorker, where he writes the financial page.

Dr. Steve Miller, chief medical officer of the pharmacy benefit management firm, Express Scripts.

Patricia Danzon, professor of health care management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

From Tom’s Reading List

New Yorker: Biotech’s Hard Bargain — “In December the F.D.A. approved the first in a new wave of hep-C drugs, Gilead’s Sovaldi. This is huge news—not just in medicine but on Wall Street. Vamil Divan, a drug-industry analyst at Credit Suisse, told me, ‘Sovaldi and the other new hep-C drugs are great drugs for a tough disease.’ Sovaldi can cure ninety per cent of patients in three to six months, with only minor side effects. There’s just one catch: a single dose of the drug costs a thousand dollars, which means that a full, twelve-week course of treatment comes to more than eighty grand.”

NPR: Costly Hepatitis C Pill Shreds Drug Industry Sales Record — “To make the case for Sovaldi’s price, Gilead put together a chart of hepatitis C treatment costs for a variety of medicines. A combination of Sovaldi, a common form of interferon and the antiviral ribavirin, would cost $94,078 for treatment that would last 12 weeks. Other drug combinations that would take longer for treatment ranged from $64,825 to $106,673.”

New England Journal of Medicine: The Costs of Success — “Unfortunately, not all barriers to treatment will be lifted. The major limitation remaining will be economic. The current cost of a 12-week regimen of sofosbuvir alone is $84,000, or $1,000 per tablet. The addition of ledipasvir will add to the costs, and these estimates do not include expenses for diagnostic assays, monitoring, and physician visits.”

Painkiller Zohydro Sparks Addiction Concerns Anew

Lisa Girion, health and investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times. (@lisagirion)

Boston Globe: Drugmakers dual role as friend, foe — “Doctors prescribe way too many powerful painkillers in this country. The skyrocketing overdoses are mirrored by rising prescriptions for Oxycodone, Vicodin, and other opioids, especially for middle-aged people in chronic pain. Adding another powerful painkiller to an already saturated market, especially one that is easily crushed and snorted, means more prescriptions, more abuse, and, inevitably, more deaths.”

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