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Hepatitis C Medication Price Freeze Demanded

October 27, 2004

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The following report covers a recent letter sent to pharmaceutical companies by activists demanding a price freeze for HIV and HCV medications. The fact that AIDS activists have picked up the cause of Hepatitis C patients is a very positive development.

The Hepatitis c patient community has been marginalized and stigmatized by the mainstream press reports that the majority of chronic Hepatitis c patients have contracted the disease by intravenous drug use. There have also been very few spokespeople/activists representing the Hepatitis c patient community.

It is good to see a voice is emerging in defense of Hepatitis c patients.

Activists Demand Permanent Price Freeze on AIDS and Hepatitis C Medications

AIDS activists issued a strong letter to the CEOs of seven major pharmaceutical companies demanding a price freeze in the United States for medications used to treat AIDS and hepatitis C. The letter, addressed to the CEOs of each company and signed by 200 AIDS service organizations, hospitals, faith-based groups, and HIV provider groups across the country, opens with a strong call to action: “the time has come for a drastic change in your company’s drug pricing practices in the United States.”

The letter points to continuing company pricing practices that have resulted in mammoth profits, in the face of soaring health insurance premiums and decreased funding for lifesaving HIV/AIDS medications for people who cannot otherwise afford them.

New York,(PRWEB) October 20, 2004 – In a stunning move today, AIDS activists issued a strong letter to the CEOs of seven major pharmaceutical companies demanding a price freeze in the United States for medications used to treat AIDS and hepatitis C. The letter, addressed to the CEOs of each company and signed by 200 AIDS service organizations, hospitals, faith-based groups, and HIV provider groups across the country, opens with a strong call to action: “the time has come for a drastic change in your company’s drug pricing practices in the United States.” Citing price increases since 2003 that range from 4.8% to 400%, the AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition (ATAC) points to continuing company pricing practices that have resulted in mammoth profits, in the face of soaring health insurance premiums and decreased funding for lifesaving HIV/AIDS medications for people who cannot otherwise afford them.

“Why are newer, ‘second-generation’ drugs approved just 6 months ago increasing in price by 5% or more? Why should the price of a drug approved in 1996, which has netted millions in profits, suddenly increase by 400%?” asked Jen Curry, an ATAC member, who works on drug development and pricing policy. SAVE ADAP (the AIDS Drug Assistance Program) member and co-author of the letter, Lei Chou commented: “Companies charge obscenely high prices for medications in the US, and then they continue to increase their profit margin each year by taking 4% to 6% price increases, or in some cases 10% increases, on these drugs. These price increases are largely invisible, but have profound cumulative impact on programs like Medicaid and ADAP. This is an abuse of free enterprise and an inequity that unnecessarily burdens healthcare consumers.”

HIV-treating physician Ben Young, who represents an organization of HIV healthcare providers, said “This is an important attempt to be proactive. The time has come for pharmaceutical companies to exercise corporate responsibility in their drug pricing policies.” Signed by several investment corporations, as well as faith-based AIDS groups and ministries across the country, this letter represents a broad coalition effort on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS, and the organizations, doctors, hospitals, and ministries that serve them.

This letter should not come as a surprise to these companies, noted Anne Donnelly, Director of Public Policy at Project Inform in San Francisco. “Several of them have negotiated price freezes in the past with groups like the Fair Pricing Coalition, but agreements have been temporary and limited to single payers. In the past two years, we’ve seen freezes expire and a decreased capacity for programs like Medicaid, ADAP, prisons, and other public payers to absorb the costs.”

Indeed, the letter points out that when people with AIDS and hepatitis C cannot access the benefit of therapy, they eventually become sick with life-threatening illnesses, further burdening the public healthcare system. In the last couple of years, members of the HIV community across the US have died while on waiting lists to receive publicly funded medications. Activists fear that the death toll will rise as the number of people unable to access lifesaving medication grows.

They also say that growing numbers of uninsured individuals in the US and the soaring costs of health insurance are in part a result of the reckless pricing policies of pharmaceutical companies. The letter demands immediate price freezes on medications to treat AIDS and hepatitis C, a disease afflicting as many as a third of people living with AIDS. A notable exception to the demand is the clear request that two companies, Abbott and Roche, reduce the price of their respective drugs Norvir and Fuzeon, which activists say are so exorbitantly priced.

The AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition (www.atac-usa.org) is a national coalition of AIDS activists, many living with HIV/AIDS, working together to end the AIDS epidemic by advancing research on HIV/AIDS. The price freeze letter is currently available online at www.atac-usa.org/price.html#ceo.

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