[Ip-health] Scripps Howard: Senator Proposes Plan to Reduce Cost of HIV/AIDS Drugs

Thirukumaran Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu May 17 01:03:18 PDT 2012

Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

Senator Proposes Plan to Reduce Cost of HIV/AIDS Drugs


By Maulana Moore

Wednesday, May 16, 2012  


Washington, D.C. - Sen. Bernard Sanders, I–Vt., chairman of the subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, held a hearing Tuesday to discuss his proposal to substitute a prize fund for the patent system for drug companies.

The prizes would be awarded to companies based on innovation and how many people would benefit from the new drugs. Funding for prizes would come from a $3 billion Prize Fund.

“We should reward innovators for developing these new medicines in a way that does not force any of those who need the drugs to wait, suffer and in some cases, die,” Sanders said.

He said average prices for prescription drugs are 85 percent higher in the U.S. than in Canada and 150 percent higher than in France, Italy and Switzerland.

With millions of dollars in funding up for review in Congress, critics question where the money for the Prize Fund would come from.

Sanders suggested that health insurance companies fund the prizes. 

Sanders said eliminating brand-name HIV/AIDS drugs that cost the government $9.7 billion in 2011 and replacing them with generic drugs would pay for the Prize Fund.

“Moving from a patent system to a prize fund system is important in improving the efficiency of our health-care system,” Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economics professor at Columbia University, said. 

Mohammed Akhter, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said that, despite high prices for HIV/AIDS drugs, his department has had success in preventive measures.

“Because of our work, there has not been a baby born with HIV in the District, since 2009,” Akhter said.

D.C. residents with HIV/AIDS are eligible for the federally funded AIDS Drug Assistance Program by proving that they live in the District.

Sanders said it may be more difficult to get in the program in other states.

“If your income is just a little too high, or your state has set a cap on the number of people who can enroll, you may not even get on a waiting list,” Sanders said.

Frank Oldham Jr., president of the National Association of People With AIDS, is HIV positive and testified in support of the legislation. He testified based on first-hand experience with purchasing HIV drugs and applauded Sanders’ efforts.

All of the witnesses favored the concept, but critics found drawbacks.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said there are drawbacks to Sanders’ bill and that the patent system works. New drugs are generally protected by patents for 20 years.

“The prize system as envisioned in this legislation has many drawbacks. … For diseases such as HIV where resistance to the virus can build, we need to encourage a wide variety of medicines for treatment,” PhRMA said in a statement.

Sanders said he recognizes the bill has drawbacks but believes it would be a step in the right direction.

“Let me be very clear, for the United States Congress, this is a very radical idea and one that will most certainly not be passed in the short term,” Sanders said. “ However, it is a concept that is absolutely right, that must be passed, and will be passed when the American people demand it.


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)

thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

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