If and when a medication that reverses and/or prevents dementia arrives, will anyone but the wealthy be able to afford it? I’ve been pondering this question ever since the pharmaceutical company Mylan was roundly criticized for drastically increasing the price of EpiPens, the common treatment used for severe allergic reactions.
As with Turing Pharmaceuticals and its 5,000-percent increase for its toxoplasmosis treatment Daraprim, Mylan issued a significant price hike for a drug that had been on the market for quite some time. But what about new drugs that are medical breakthroughs for diseases that have proven elusive to treat?
Let’s face it, a medication that could effectively treat dementia would be one of the major medical breakthroughs of modern times. (Of course we must consider that there are several forms of dementia, so a medication that can target Lewy Body Dementia may not work in Alzheimer’s patients, and vice versa. )
Focusing on Alzheimer’s disease, the demand for a proven effective treatment is going to be huge. In an NPR interview about how drug companies price their products, an expert reveals the main factor is how much are people willing to pay for the drug. The interview focuses on Gilead Sciences and its drug Sovaldi, which can cure hepatitis C in most cases. The medication was much more effective than anything else on the market at the time, and hepatitis C can cause serious health issues if left untreated. The medication only needs to be taken an average of 12 weeks, so the price per pill was higher than it would have been for a treatment that took longer. You may have seen the headlines, “A $1,000 pill.” It was true that Sovaldi was priced at a total of $84,000 per bottle when it launched in 2014, though thanks to competition and public outcry, it costs about half that now.
So how much do you think families who have a member battling Alzheimer’s will pay for a medication that could restore their loved one’s sanity? It’s easy to say that a cure is priceless, but in reality, there is a price tag on everything. Perhaps the more interesting question is if the government should step in and regulate prices in such cases, in the name of public health.
I know that if an Alzheimer’s cure pill had been available while my dad was alive, at the prices listed above, we would not have been able to afford it unless Medicare paid for most of it. While I am a firm believer in the free market, I also don’t think any family should have to let a member die because they can’t afford medication.
What are your thoughts? Should medical breakthrough drugs be more heavily regulated to ensure access to the general population?