I’m a huge fan of capitalism, but when mixed with medicine there are serious side effects.
I’m not a medical historian, but I’ve always found it curious how many “cured” diseases were cured before corporations started filing patents.
Now, even when a government doctor makes a medical breakthrough, it seems the emphasis is more on making money than curing the afflicted.
Congress, one of the most universally reviled groups of people in the U.S., is questioning why a drug created by a Veterans Administration doctor is so expensive the VA can’t afford to pay for it, reports CBS News.
Dr. Raymond Schinazi has worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs since 1983, and was allowed to spend an eighth of his time working with private companies to create treatments that would help veterans.
In 1998, Schinazi and Dennis Liotta, scientists at Emory University in Atlanta, founded a company named Pharmasset and led the scientific team that discovered Sofosbuvir, which allegedly cures hepatitis C in 99 percent of patients. Hep C afflicts somewhere around 250,000 veterans, who likely contracted the virus during battlefield blood transfusions and vaccinations.
Schinazi sold his share of the company for $400 million and the U.S. government got a huge bill. A single pill of Sofosbuvir (trade name Sovaldi) costs $1,000, but patients need 12 weeks of treatment. The total cost? About $84,000.
Schinazi has said the actual cost of creating the drug needed for the 12-week treatment is about $1,400.
The VA now says it can’t afford to buy the drug its employee developed.
“Certainly the taxpayers should be outraged,” said Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Louisiana, in a Congressional hearing Wednesday.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, like voters, wonders if government is incompetent, corrupt, or both.
“Is it bureaucratic incompetence or is it corruption, or is it a combination of the two?” Coffman asked during the hearing. “This wasted resource is why this nation is unable to take care of the men and women who have served this country in uniform.”
Dr. Schinazi wasn’t at the hearing. He retired Monday, says CBS. Last year he was awarded the VA’s highest honor for groundbreaking work that has saved “millions of lives.”
Meanwhile, Vietnam veteran Zion Yisrael waits for his shot at the cure. In 2011 he was told he had five years to live because hepatitis C was destroying his liver.
“It’s just not right that the vets would risk their lives and come here and because of $84,000 we can’t get cured?” says Yisrael.
The old soldier is not alone.
The VA has treated about 35,000 veterans with the expensive drug, about 15 percent of the veterans infected with hepatitis C. According to my math, the unpaid VA bill currently sits at $18 billion, give or take a few hundred million.