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$1,350 a pill? New medications spark fears that health care costs could soar

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The new top-selling treatment for hepatitis C costs $1,350 per pill, The Associated Press reports.

And a Minnesota expert tells the news service it's exhibit A in his argument that prescription drug costs are spinning out of control.

Stephen Schondelmeyer is a professor of pharmaceutical economics at the U of M's College of Pharmacy. On a day when the Veterans Affairs Department said hepatitis C drugs have put a hole in its budget, Schondelmeyer reiterated to the AP his contention that the country needs to do more to control costs.

This spring Sen. Amy Klobuchar held a panel discussion on prescription drug costs. RxRights reports Schondelmeyer said there are some miracle drugs out there, but added:

“They have to be affordable to be useful to a person. You don’t get better by staring at the drug on the shelf at the pharmacy. You have to be able to get it, use it properly and improve your health.”

Klobuchar has introduced a bill aimed at controlling drug costs, in part by allowing patients to buy their medications in Canada.

Cheaper in the long run?

The new hepatitis C drug called Harvoni brings effective cures with minimal side effects to patients with a disease that kills more Americans annually than AIDS does, the AP notes.

According to Everyday Health, the single pill taken daily for 12 weeks differs from previous treatments that involved combinations of drugs taken for up to a year that often did not cure a patient.

When hepatitis C is not cured, it can destroy a patient's liver and the AP says the cost of a transplant typically runs $577,000.

But Everyday Health says the high cost of Harvoni and similar new hepatitis C drugs means some insurance companies will cover them only for the very sickest of patients.

Healthwire says the new competition among pharmaceutical companies may be to develop a hepatitis C cure at a more affordable price.

Industry watchers like the U of M's Schondelmeyer caution, though, that hepatitis C is not the only condition with high-priced treatments being developed.

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