No Patriots At Gilead Sciences

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I Vermont) is mentioned in this article. At this writing he is a candidate for President of the United States. In no way should this article be taken as either an endorsement or a repudiation of his candidacy.

Not even the Veterans Administration can escape the sting of the high price of Harvoni. According Ed Silverman of the Wall Street Journal, in his article entitled, Sanders Asks VA To Break Patents On Gilead And AbbVie Hep C Drugs (WSJ 5/12/2015), the senator from Vermont requested that the VA override the patents held by several drug manufacturers, including those who make the astronomically priced cures for HCV infection. According to the article, Sanders, who formerly served as chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee On Veterans Affairs said, “Our veterans cannot, and should not be denied treatment while drug companies rake in billions in profits.” Threatened by the loss of profit that would come from treating approximately 150,000 veterans believed infected with HCV, Gilead Sciences (maker of Harvoni), gave the VA a break – from $1,000 a pill to $500 a pill, keeping the drug out of reach for treating all but those with advanced liver disease. Add to that the continuing struggle of the VA to see patients in a timely manner, and we may continue to see many die waiting for this lifesaving drug. Although the agency funneled some 450 million dollars into treatment, it’s already near the end of its funding, and is asking for additional money. Where does all this money come from? It comes from our taxes.

Some talk of privatizing the VA. They believe private enterprise would do a better job of administering veterans benefits. How can we entrust the free market with such a task when we cannot trust it to provide medication for HCV and other catastrophic illnesses at a reasonable price? Are we right to expect some show of patriotism from private enterprise? Isn’t that ultimately what this is all about? We’re talking about folks who have risked their very lives to protect our homeland. It appears that far too few are listening to our veterans’ cries for help. Should we not instead reward our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen? We’re certainly adept at expressing our appreciation with Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts. Some of these tokens are given with great ceremony, but there is no ceremony when it comes to giving our vets unfulfilled promises of basic healthcare. Instead, many of our most valuable citizens are rewarded with nothing but frustration when seeking even an initial visit to a VA facility, and when our heroes find themselves facing a positive result for hepatitis C, they have reason to fear a lack of access to treatment – treatment that involves only taking a few dozen pills, that cures nearly everyone. Imagine what could happen if Gilead grew a conscience, a sense of patriotism, an attitude of mercy. After all, they hold the power to change the world.

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