Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to invoke emergency powers to make expensive hepatitis C drugs available at affordable prices to treat tens of thousands of veterans now being denied the most effective care.
The VA recently stopped enrolling veterans in successful new treatments for the often deadly liver disease because the department already had spent the more than $400 million it had budgeted for the costly drugs.
The high-profit hepatitis C drugs are among the most expensive medications on the market. Gilead Sciences makes two of the new blockbuster medications and charges $1,000 per pill. That adds up to $84,000 over the course of caring for a single patient. Even with a discount, the large VA health care system still drained its budget for treating hepatitis C.
Sanders’ proposal would make it possible for the VA, which already has treated about 20,000 veterans for hepatitis C, to afford to care for the estimated 200,000 additional veterans enrolled in VA health care who are believed to have the disease.
In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Sanders urged him to authorize the manufacture or importation of the drug for VA patients at a fraction of what is being charged by the companies which hold patents on the medications.
“Our nation’s veterans cannot and should not be denied treatment while drug companies rake in billions of dollars in profits,” Sanders said in the letter. He noted that the new medications could cure many more patients with far fewer side effects. “We must not allow corporate greed to stand in the way of this potential.”
To read Sanders’ letter to Secretary McDonald, click here.