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article imagePortugal agrees to treat 13,000 Hepatitis C sufferers for free

By Karen Graham     Feb 8, 2015 in Health
Hepatitis C infects over 185 million people worldwide, and while there is no vaccine for the virus causing this liver disease, there is now a treatment. Solvaldi has a cure rate of over 90 percent, but it costs a whopping 24,000 Euros for the cure.
The Portugal News reported on Friday that the government had finally reached an agreement with the American pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences over the use of the Hepatitis C drug, Solvaldi. The Portuguese Minister of Health Paulo Macedo said the government will treat up to 13,000 patients infected with Hepatitis C, over a three-year period.
According to reports, the ministry of Health and the national drugs watchdog, Infarmed, were able to negotiate a price that would allow more patients to be treated for less than 25,000 Euros ($28,287 US) per three-month treatment. "We will be able to treat more sufferers in a fairer way. We will open the way to initiate the eradication, the elimination of the disease," Macedo told a press conference.
Stating the government would pay for every treatment for sufferers of Hepatitis C, the minister added, "We will not pay for three, 12 or 24 weeks of treatment, but for each patient treated," adding that the government will not cover expenses if the patient needs any additional treatment. According to the daily newspaper, Publico, the agreement between Gilead and the Ministry of health was reached late Thursday night after a week of intense negotiations.
According to unsubstantiated reports, Gilead was asking 41,000 Euros for a three-month treatment with the drug sofosbuvir or Solvaldi, but was talked down to the lower price.
Solvaldi is just one of a number of very expensive drugs
Some people are calling Solvaldi a "miracle cure," and justly so, but the exorbitant price of this miracle cure is mind-spinning. Yes, it has a cure rate of 90 percent or better in some cases, but on the downside, it can cost as much as $84,000 for a three-month treatment. The pharmaceutical manufacturer, Gilead Sciences had sales for the first half of 2014 at over $5.7 billion, according to their earnings report.
But Solvaldi is not the only expensive medication available today. We now have a medication for multiple sclerosis that became available in 2010 called Gilenya. It runs about $4,000 a month, And these expensive drugs are becoming more common for the treatment of many chronic diseases, like cancer, HIV, and hepatitis C. The U.S. health care system is still trying to sort out who will end up paying for these miracle drugs and how much they will be paying.
Here is the problem in its simplest form: U.S. taxpayers are sitting in the middle of a huge mess, to put it mildly. Right now, the federal government pays for 37 percent of America’s $263 billion prescription drug bill through programs like Medicaid, Medicare, military and the veterans’ health care system. But the government doesn't always end up paying the lowest price, as some people may think.
By law, big Pharma companies must sell medications to the military and to Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor, at prices below the retail average. The percent discount is based on a complex formula that takes into account the drugs average sale price, among other things. But here comes the catch. When Medicare's prescription benefit plan was enacted in 2003, big Pharma lobbied to prevent the Medicare program from negotiating discounts like those with the Medicaid and military programs.
Big Pharma's argument was that private insurance companies that administer the medicare drug program would hold down the prices. Well, that didn't happen. Medicare pays over 69 percent more for brand-name drugs than does Medicaid. The hard truth is that since the 1990s, prescription drugs make up more than 10 percent of our total medical bill. And with more and more exorbitantly priced medications coming on the market, who is going to end up paying the bill?
More about Portugal, Gilead Sciences, Solvaldi, Hepatitis C, health insurance programs
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