Because drug manufacturers waive their patent rights in developing nations in compliance with the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief, Americans have paid tens of thousands for the same HIV drugs that cost hundreds of dollars in Africa. The enormous cost burden — as much as $30,000 a year — makes it difficult for many HIV patients to keep up with drug regimens. But as Politico reports, a Senate subcommittee will hear a proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to help lower the costs. Sanders’ plan would offer prize money instead of patent rights to companies that make new HIV drugs, so the medication would go straight to the generic market.
Drugmakers argue that they can’t make a profit without drug patents, which lets them charge less in developing nations, but “these costs can be a huge barrier to treatment,” said Mark Harrington, executive director of the Treatment Action Group.
The hearing will also look at the challenges faced by HIV patients without access to health care:
The challenge for uninsured HIV patients has worsened during the recession, as many states have taken steps to contain costs in the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs [ADAP] funded jointly by state and federal dollars. Many patient advocates are hopeful that the health reform law will get coverage to many low-income HIV patients if it goes into effect in 2014, but they worry that patients could still face high co-pays for specialty drugs and other gaps in coverage.
Even with the discount offered through ADAP programs, Ann Lefert, policy director at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, told Politico that it still costs an average of $10,000 per year for one patient. And some states have waiting lists for their ADAP programs or are taking steps to contain costs.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly three out of four Americans with HIV are not receiving enough medicine or regular health care “to stay healthy or prevent themselves from transmitting the virus to others.”