BURLINGTON, Vt., Oct. 9 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today raised new questions about skyrocketing prices for prescription drugs, including a new treatment for Hepatitis C that costs more than $1,000 per pill, and what he calls “staggering” price hikes for generic drugs.
Sanders’ focus on the Hepatitis C medication stems from his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which recently learned that the costly new treatment is projected to cost the Department of Veterans Affairs $1.3 billion over the next two years.
The VA treats roughly 174,000 veterans with Hepatitis C and the drug requires a 12-week course of treatment for most patients. The impact on the VA budget is significant, even though the large health care system receives a discount on Sovaldi from Gilead.
“My goal as chairman is to help VA provide the best quality care to our veterans. But when VA has to spend an enormous amount of money on prescription drugs – money that has not been budgeted for – other important services are put at risk,” said Sanders. “This is an issue that has to be explored because when we put money into the VA we want to make sure it goes toward making sure veterans get the best care possible, not to pad the profit margins of large pharmaceutical companies.”
Sanders is also working with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) to investigate the soaring cost of generic drugs. One drug, Albuterol Sulfate which is used to treat asthma, went from $11 last October to $434 recently for a bottle of 100 pills. An antibiotic, Doxycycline Hyclate, cost $20 last year for a bottle of 500 tablets. By April, the price was $1,849.
In letters asking 14 pharmaceutical companies for explanations, Cummings and Sanders cited a survey that found pharmacists across the country “have seen huge upswings in generic drug prices that are hurting patients” and having a “very significant” impact on pharmacists’ ability to continue serving patients.
Sanders has asked Vermonters to tell his office about their own experiences with generic drug prices. One man in Montpelier wrote, “I went to the pharmacy to refill a prescription. The drug was Plaquenil, available in a generic. Last month I paid $8.60, today the same drug cost me $88.50. The drug companies are reaping off the American public. The pharmacist said it was due to the Affordable Care Act. I think that is BUNK! It is nothing more than greed.”
To let the senator know about your experiences with drug prices, click here.