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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hey Pharma! Provide Low Cost HIV Medications to All Americans

By Elizabeth Lombino -

In covering the ADAP Crisis in America, we've been focusing primarily on individual states. Many states have cut funding to these vital AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) that provide financial assistance to HIV-positive individuals who cannot afford their insanely expensive, yet life-saving medications.
At the same time, it's not just state legislators who are denying medications to these vulnerable individuals due to the cost. The pharmaceutical companies (pharma) that develop and distribute these medications are also acting more out of concern for their bottom line than out of concern for HIV-positive individuals.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is calling for top pharma to decrease the prices of their medications to assist with the ADAP crisis.  In a letter published on February 3 and sent to all the top companies, AHF is asking pharma to cut their medication costs by 20% to help ease the financial burden off state and federal funds. These medications can cost an HIV-positive individual thousands of dollars a year or more. One newer medication by Merck, called Isentress, can cost over $13,000 a year. By comparison, the popular cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor costs around $2 per day, or $730 a year. Seriously?
To be fair, some pharma provide lower-cost medications and reimbursements to some clients who qualify. They have developed various programs in different states to help states with the costs. We recently highlighted the Welvista program in Florida that has provided tremendous assistance to that state's severely financially troubled ADAP program.
In addition, some companies, including Merck, provide little to no cost medications internationally to help combat HIV/AIDS in severely ravaged areas like China, India and Africa. What many people may not realize is that HIV/AIDS is still spreading at alarming rates in some parts of our country. In fact, a recent study showed that in some inner-city communities, like Washington, D.C., HIV is spreading at rates higher than those in Sub-Saharan Africa.
So while it is certainly noble for pharma to assist international HIV-positive individuals who are disenfranchised and with little to no medical care, they cannot do so at the expense of American HIV-positive individuals who may be equally disenfranchised and with little to no access to medical care.
The problem is that there is no consistency. AHF is calling for pharma to be consistent in their cost reduction strategies so no HIV-positive individual is at risk of losing access to these vital medications due to the expense. This needs to be a joint effort between federal and state government and pharma. They cannot rely on outside resources and programs to bail them out. This is a major crisis that needs the attention of all parties involved.
As AHF’s President Michael Weinstein writes in the letter:  "Without the assistance provided by ADAPs, the people affected by this crisis have very few (if any) available options to get their treatment. These programs are the only real safety net for people with AIDS. Patient assistance and other programs, such as Heinz-Welvista, cannot provide help to everyone who needs it. ADAPs were set up for this purpose and, as long as they are protected from increasing drug costs, ensure that patients don’t slip through the cracks.”
These are life saving medications that should not cost a person their life savings. This is an alarming crisis that needs to change now!
Up to this point there has been little more than silence from pharma regarding ADAP. This is unacceptable. Please join us in urging Merck to make a statement about ADAP and pledge to work with all stakeholders to combat this crisis. Pharma must work to provide low cost HIV medications to all Americans!

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