Calling the high price of HIV/AIDS drugs the equivalent of “finding someone drowning in a swimming pool and not jumping in to save them,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today called for eliminating monopolies that keep affordable generics off the market.
At a hearing of his Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, Sanders noted that HIV drug Atripla costs more than $25,000 per person per year in the U.S., while the generic version — approved by the FDA but not available for sale in the U.S., but purchased by government programs for distribution in developing countries — costs less than $200 per year.
“Although medicines can slow or even halt the advance of HIV, many Americans diagnosed as HIV positive are not taking the medicines they need because they simply cannot afford to buy them,” Sanders said, noting that 2,759 Americans are on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program waiting list.
Sanders has introduced legislation that would create a $3 billion annual prize fund to reward the discovery of new treatments for HIV/AIDS, in hopes that the competition would drive down prices in the market protected by the patent system. The prize fund that would be created by Sanders’ bill would be supported by the federal government and private health insurers in an amount proportionate to their share of the HIV/AIDs drug market.
“I believe that by breaking the link between drug prices and the rewards for medical R&D, we can provide virtually universal access to medicines as soon as they are available on the market, we can end rationing and restrictive formularies, and we can manage overall research and development incentives through a sanely-administered fund that provides significant rewards, but only for new medicines that actually offer new value,” Sanders said. “The bottom line would be better products sooner, and generic prices for all pharmaceutical products right away, not after ten years of astronomical prices.”
The senator said the bill would “pay for itself” because the amount of the prize fund is less than what brand-name drugs for which there is no generic already cost.
“Let me be very clear, for the United States Congress this is a very radical idea and one that will most certainly not be passed in the short term,” Sanders said. “However, it is a concept that is absolutely right, that must be passed, and will be passed when the American people demand it.”
Sanders’ bill, introduced nearly a year ago, has no co-sponsors.