Are new hepatitis C drugs worth the money? A Boston doctor says yes

A doctor at Boston Medical Center appears to confirm what many proponents of the pharmaceutical industry have been arguing for the past year-and-a-half: New, pricey drugs to treat hepatitis C like Sovaldi and Viekira Pak are in fact cost-effective — despite a sticker price of around $1,000 per pill.

According to a Bloomberg story today, a report that is now in draft form by a 32-member panel of physicians and medical experts looked into whether the most high-profile targets for inflated drug prices are worth the money. Benjamin Linas, a doctor at Boston Medical Center, told Bloomberg that the answer to that question is “a resounding yes.”

Since it was approved in December 2013, Sovaldi has been blamed dozens of times by health care insurers as a prime reason for operating losses. In March, when three of the state’s four biggest commercial insurers reported big losses in 2014, all of them specifically mentioned the flood of patients who want to receive the newest hepatitis C drugs.

While the report will likely make it harder for insurance companies to deny the drugs for patients, the panel’s definition of “cost effectiveness” doesn’t mean it will save a patient money in the long term. According to Bloomberg, it means the treatment is worth the price “because of its health benefits, weighing its value against its expense and comparable treatments.” The report is also based on the cost of the drugs after discounts, which is significantly less than the $1,000-per-pill price that has made headlines for the past year.

California-based Gilead (Nasdaq: GILD), the maker of Sovaldi, and AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV), maker of Viekira Pak, have justified the prices of their drugs in part by arguing that since the drug is a cure, not an ongoing treatment, the cost of the three-month regimen is less than the cost of other ongoing treatments the patient would need to treat the chronic disease.

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