(NaturalNews) The pharmaceutical industry is salivating over the prospect of milking the Medicaid system dry, now that Obamacare has expanded medical coverage to millions of low-income individuals who require expensive drug treatments for serious health conditions. New reports indicate that so-called "wonder drugs" are now being intentionally released, some that cost tens of thousands of dollars per month, that threaten to completely bankrupt state healthcare systems and put taxpayers out to pasture.
A new drug for hepatitis C known as Sovaldi, for instance, has gained national attention after it got out that the drug costs a whopping $84,000 per patient for a 12-week course. According to The Washington Post (WP), the drug was strategically released at the same time that Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions dramatically expanded both private and Medicaid coverage for such drugs, representing significant market expansion potential for the drug industry since millions of people who previously couldn't afford treatment will now be granted coverage off the backs of taxpayers.
Sovaldi threatens to double Medicaid costs in Oregon
The costs associated with treatment for hepatitis C were already on the minds of lawmakers prior to the release of Sovaldi, which is manufactured by Gilead Sciences, because conventional protocols for this condition already have a reputation for being expensive. But now those fears are amplified because Big Pharma is poised to unleash a steady stream of drugs like Sovaldi that are outrageously costly, but that will have to be covered under the law.
Oregon Medicaid official Tom Burns told WP that his state's program currently spends about $377 million annually for all prescription drugs used by its roughly 600,000 members. With the addition of Sovaldi, however, that amount will nearly double, as every patient with hepatitis C who requires treatment will technically be eligible for the expensive treatment, which the state simply cannot afford to pay.
"We see the most expensive people in the country on a day-to-day basis, but we've never seen before the combination of a drug that costs this much multiplied by not 500 people, but 3 million," stated Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, to WP. "That's what's really made this kind of a game-changer."
States move to place limits on Sovaldi accessibility, barring drug addicts and alcoholics
Some states, including Illinois, are having to set up new eligibility requirements for drugs like Sovaldi in order to keep their Medicaid programs viable for everyone. Only those patients with the most advanced stages of the liver disease, and who do not have a history of drug and alcohol abuse, will be eligible -- this is crucial in the case of hepatitis C, as the condition is often spread between "junkies" who share needles.
"We recognize that there are those patients who must be treated, and we're going to treat them," added Burns to WP. "But the vast majority can wait while we figure out a policy that doesn't bankrupt this state."
But higher drug prices are the name of the game in the Obamacare era, as mandatory coverage requirements allow drug companies to essentially charge whatever they want for drugs, and the state has no choice but to pay it. Not only this, but the Medicaid ranks are rapidly swelling to unsustainable proportions as a result of ACA coverage inclusions, which simply won't work economically.
"Given the current drug patent system's enormous waste and corruption, economists should be heavily involved in trying to design a better system," wrote Dean Baker for Al Jazeera America.