May 18, 2012
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a bill that he claims could help reduce the cost of HIV drugs in the United States by thousands of dollars, making them as cheap as subsidized drugs in Africa. Sanders' legislation, S. 1138, proposes to replace the drugmakers' exclusive marketing rights for new HIV and AIDS drugs with rewards of money from the government.
According to Sen. Sanders' website, the government patent system granting monopolies to pharmaceutical companies that develop new drugs is responsible for the high cost of drugs in the United States. The Sanders bill instead would create a $3 billion annual prize fund to reward the discovery of new treatments for HIV/AIDS.
In many developing countries, US drugmakers wave their patent rights as part of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, making the annual cost of HIV drugs manageable for low-income people living with HIV. Conversely, the annual cost of HIV drugs in the United States can be between $30,000 and $40,000.
Drugmakers argue that they will be unable to bring HIV drugs to the market without the patent rights to make production profitable. They also contend that programs such as the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP), which provide HIV drugs for people who cannot afford the cost, are available for low-income people living with HIV.
The reality, however, is that the confluence of the economic recession and the ever-growing number of people living with HIV has made ADAP and pharmaceutical assistance programs that provide HIV drugs for low-income individuals struggle to cover all the people that need HIV drugs. As of May 10, 2,759 people in 10 states are on ADAP waiting lists, and 16 states have cost-containment measures in place that limit access to ADAP.
AIDS United met with Senator Sanders' office to give input on the bill and is supportive of the spirit of the bill to lower costs of HIV medication for people in the United States living with HIV.
Click here to read Senator Sanders' opening statement to the Senate subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, of which he is the Chairman.