Making HIV/AIDS Medicine Affordable

Bernie Buzz

Too often pharmaceutical drugs are so expensive that the people who need them cannot afford them.  

AIDS is a case in point.  More than 1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Each year, another 56,000 Americans are infected with HIV and 18,000 more people die from AIDS in the U.S. Although medicines can slow or even halt the advance of HIV, many Americans diagnosed as HIV positive are not taking the medicine they need because they can’t afford to buy the prescriptions.

Sen. Bernie Sanders recently introduced two proposals to reform the pharmaceutical innovation and pricing system. While one is designed to address the entire pharmaceutical sector, a new, narrower bill - the Prize Fund for HIV/AIDS Act – is designed specifically to spur development of and enhance access to new HIV/AIDS medicines by rewarding innovation directly in order to get prices down as soon as innovative AIDS drugs hit the market.  By allowing patients to purchase generic versions of HIV/AIDS medicines, the bill would lower prices dramatically.  In place of revenues from high prices, the innovator of the product would be awarded substantial monetary prizes from a special prize fund. Bernie's legislation would eliminate the monopoly barriers that keep drug prices sky-high, allowing those living with HIV and those suffering from AIDS to access the most effective treatments right away.

Patents would no longer be used to block generic competition.  Instead, they would be used as a claim on significant prize funds for real innovation. The Prize Fund for HIV/AIDS would replace monopoly control of the HIV/AIDS treatment marketplace with a rationally administered prize fund of more than $3 billion that would be awarded based on the therapeutic advantages of new treatments. The cost of this fund would be easily offset by the savings to consumers, private insurers and government insurance programs, which now spend $9.1 billion on HIV/AIDS medicines every year.

In a little over a year, the number of Americans waiting for life-saving medicines has increased dramatically. During the last 14 months, waiting lists for Aids Drug Assistance Programs in states across the country have swelled from 361 people in January 2010 to more than 8,300 people this spring.

“If a treatment that is literally a matter of life and death for a person living with HIV/AIDS can be produced for a mere fraction of the average retail price, we must do everything possible to get them the medicine they need at a price they can afford,” Bernie said.

Read the Prize Fund for HIV/AIDS Act »
TIMELINE: 30 Years of AIDS  »
Read about the CDC’s response to HIV/AIDS  »