Under the current patent law system governing the development and sale of HIV/AIDS medications, it has been estimated that less than half of those who need them can actually afford it.
As it stands, the cost for proper treatment for HIV is approximately $9,400 per year. This chunky sum adds up primarily because of monopolies among drug manufacturers. To address this issue, Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont sponsored S. 1138 in May of 2011. On Tuesday, the Primary Health and Aging subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education Labor & Pensions heard from a panel of experts on the issue who are in support of the bill. S. 1138 proposes to eliminate the possibility of monopolies forming and would also offer incentives for manufacturers who implement innovative ways to take needed drugs to the public for less money. This would spark competition among drug manufacturers resulting in an improved market and betterment of that sector of the health care system.
Joseph Stigelz of Columbia University stated that the U.S. has the least efficient health care system of any developed country. He said this is in part because health care companies are not putting enough emphasis where it will be most socially beneficial. He gave his support for S. 1138 as he talked of the innovative move the bill takes. Perhaps it is a step in the right direction.
Further support came from Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School. He was at first cynical of the Senate when he was invited to speak at the hearing. However, when he spoke on the panel Tuesday, he stated that when he saw this bill it was enough motivation to take the time to come support it. He said patent law, in general, is good for innovation, but the current mode of government intervention among HIV/AIDS drug manufactures makes it difficult for many individuals to obtain the medications they need. He spoke specifically of the many individuals who have been diagnosed with HIV but cannot afford the current price of the medications needed to improve and prolong their lives. He said this is worse than seeing a child drowning and doing nothing, because it is the current government regulations that allow prices to be where they are. Thus, he was very optimistic about the bill.
Dr. Mohammed Akhter, director of the D.C. Department of Health, has been working with the HIV/AIDS issue for many years and he also fully endorsed the bill. In his career, he has made dramatic improvements around the AIDS epidemic, including reducing the number of deaths from AIDS in the D.C. area by 50% between 2005 and 2009. The endorsements from Dr. Akhter’s and panel members convincingly showed the benefits of the proposed change in regulations.
Hopefully the bill will move along so a group in need can be helped and even have their lives saved. The promotion of innovation in S. 1138 will benefit the health care industry as it brings competition among companies to improve their products and thus benefit those who need the life-saving drugs.