Nearly two-thirds of doctors polled (64 percent) believe new hepatitis C drugs are worth their costs, compared with current alternatives. 2032 physicians from the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Greece, Poland, Finland, Hungary, Italy, France, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Germany participated in the poll.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver and can range in severity from a mild illness to a serious, chronic disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 130 and 150 million people are currently infected with hepatitis C worldwide.
New medications, including Harvoni and Sovaldi – offered by Gilead Sciences – AbbVie’s Viekira Pak, and Merck’s Zepatier have cure rates of approximately 95 percent, but they can cost upwards of $64,000 in the U.S., according to a WHO report. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first drug to treat all forms of hepatitis C, Gilead Science’s Epclusa. In the U.S., Epclusa’s list price is $74,760 for a 12 week treatment—priced below the company’s other breakthrough hepatitis C drugs.
The costs of these new drugs have drawn heavy criticism as the debate over drug pricing continues, especially as some of these drugs are offered at a much lower price in certain areas, seeing as much as a 99 percent discount in some countries.
Despite the WHO’s call for a reduction in drug prices, the majority of physicians polled believe the price of these drugs is justified. One U.S. radiologist said, “If you tell the drug companies TODAY, that their discovery can’t be sold for more than $900, they will stop working on a cure tomorrow.”
According to one U.S. neurologist, “MS meds cost $50-60K per YEAR and are not curative. Lifetime cost can easily reach a million plus dollars. Consider the lifetime cost of treatment for a Hepatitis patient, with complications and hospitalizations. You could easily argue the medication is cost-effective, based on that comparison.” Another U.S. neurologist agreed, saying, “Everyone wants cheap cures. Newsflash: they don’t exist in 99.999% of cases. This is one where I just have a hard time criticizing the drug company. In comparison to many other drugs already on the market, such as cancer drugs and MS drugs, and the value it brings as a CURE for a disease, I don’t think it’s terribly priced.”
A U.S. family practitioner cited one of his patients as a success story, writing, “I think they are worth it but do wish they were cheaper. I am treating a 63 year old patient with Hep C genotype 2b now and he had to get his meds paid for by a foundation […] This can help him live a longer, healthier life.” A U.S. psychiatrist agreed, saying, “I am liver transplant psych and see the wonderful results of these new drugs every day! Luckily, the days of interferon are mostly behind us!”
Still, some physicians are wary of the impact pharmaceutical pricing is having on the practice of medicine. An Italian plastic and reconstructive surgeon felt accessibility was still a major issue, commenting, “I agree with the WHO guidelines: pharmaceutical companies must reduce the cost of drugs to ensure that all patients can be treated and not just those who are very ill.” One Canadian general practitioner agreed, noting, “Pharma is greedy. They should reduce the price because this will increase the number of patients who can afford the drug.”
Some doctors approached the question of value from a comparative standpoint. A U.S. ophthalmologist considered the global context, remarking, “I have read that one of the drug companies made a deal with the government of Egypt to sell a course of treatment for $900, while charging $90,000 to Americans. We are being ripped off.” A rheumatologist based in the United States looked at the price of health care more broadly when considering the price, remarking, “Drug and outrageous hospital charges are destroying our profession and forcing insurance costs skyward. Meanwhile, docs get paid less and private practice is going away… Think about this. 90,000 for a Hep C cure? What should a cardiologist get, based on value, if he saves a heart attack victim’s life? It is OK for pharma to get value, but not us?”
For more information on the methodology of Sermo polls, please visit https://www.sermo.com/polls.
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