On World AIDS Day, Sanders Demands Affordable Meds

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 – On World Aids Day, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on Congress to pass his legislation to dramatically lower the price of prescription drugs used to treat the disease.

Sanders cited the example of ATRIPLA, a three-drug regime that costs less than $200 to make but is sold in the United States for $24,000 a year. “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 people the medicine they need at a price they can afford,” Sanders said.

Sanders recently introduced legislation 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 for prescription medicine, the innovator of the product would be awarded substantial monetary reward from a special prize fund. The legislation would eliminate the monopoly barriers that keep drug prices
sky-high and allow 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.

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.

Moreover, funding shortfalls for federal- and state-subsidized AIDS drug-assistance programs, however, have caused waiting lists to grow. A list that was whittled down to 361 people a year ago grew to 6,595 people in 12 states as of last month. Many more are simply being thrown off the waiting lists due to stiffer eligibility requirements.

“Let’s be clear, the big winners under the current system have been the pharmaceutical companies. The current challenge is to make access
to treatment sustainable for more than a million persons in the U.S. and tens of millions of people in developing countries. The prize fund approach will not only do that but will also stimulate innovation,” Sanders said.

To read the bill, click here.