The FDA has just approved the first oral medication (a pill) for the treatment of hepatitis C.  Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a virus.   It is usually transmitted by direct blood-to-blood contact.  For a primer on hepatitis C, see the CDC’s “vital signs” on the subject.

Doctors will soon be recommending this new drug, called Sovaldi, to their patients with hepatitis C.  But here’s the catch; treatment with the pill is expected to cost $1,000 per day.  Since the drug is supposed to be taken for 12-24 weeks, a full course of treatment will cost $84,000 to $168,000!   The stockholders of Gilead Sciences, the medication’s manufacturer, hope the drug will earn big profits for the company.  There are approximately 150 million people with hepatitis C worldwide.  Stock analysts think that annual sales of the drug could top peak annual sales of the best-selling drug of all time, Lipitor.   Patient advocacy groups have voiced concern that some patients will not be able to afford the drug, but there’s not much they can do.  We can complain that pharmaceutical companies are greedy, but it’s not that simple.   They have huge development costs and they have a right to make a profit.

But as health care consumers, we do have choices.  If I had hepatitis C, before I opted for the new oral treatment over any other treatment option I’d try to compare convenience, cost, and effectiveness.   Granted, the oral pill will be more convenient than the current standard of treatment, which requires intravenous injections.  What’s the difference in cost, and could I afford it?   And most important, what’s the difference in effectiveness?  I wouldn’t pay a lot more simply for convenience or for a marginal difference in effectiveness, for example.  But that’s just me; you might make a different decision.

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