Will You Be Able to Afford the Only Drug for COVID-19?

gilead, gilead sciences, coronavirus news

There is only one drug that’s been proven to curb COVID-19. And now Gilead Sciences, the company that makes it, has placed a price on it that many argue is too high. Others maintain that the price is reasonable for the benefits of the drug.  

Price of remdesivir

Gilead Sciences has announced it will charge $520 per vial for those with private insurance. That adds up to $3,120 for the six-vial, five-day, intravenous treatment. For patients on government-sponsored insurance (Veterans’ Affairs, Indian Health Services, Department of Defense, and Coast Guard) and those outside the U.S. in countries with national healthcare systems, remdesivir will cost $390 per vial, or $2,340 for the five-day course. 

What about those on Medicare and Medicaid?

Unfortunately, the discounted price does not include Medicare and Medicaid patients. These announced prices are the prices charged to hospitals, not directly to the patient. As far as how much the individual patient will pay, that will vary based on a person’s plan. Most patients will simply pay a copay and never know the amount their insurance company paid for the drug. For those who are uninsured, the drug will be covered under the CARES Act

Responses to remdesivir pricing

Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) called the price “outrageous.” The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen called the price “offensive,” seeing as the drug was developed with the help of $70 million in public funds. At the same time, some Wall Street analysts expected the drug to cost even more, at closer to $5,000 for a course of treatment. 

The drug, an antiviral that’s been used for Ebola, SARS, and other ailments, has been shown to reduce coronavirus hospital stays by four days. It has not been proven to reduce fatalities. 

Up until now, Gilead has donated a quarter of a million treatment courses of the drug for clinical trials as well as to hospitals under the FDA’s emergency use authorization. But that supply has drained out, the last of it distributed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week. 

The new agreement between Gilead and the U.S. government has the government distributing the drug via the wholesaler AmerisourceBergen. The prices are nonnegotiable, and American patients are the priority. Through September, resdemivir will only be sold in the U.S.–which means Americans will receive the majority of the treatments, over 500,000 courses of treatment. 

What is remdesivir? 

Remdesivir is an intravenous (administered into the veins) antiviral drug that was once studied for Ebola, then used for SARS and MERS.

Remdesivir is not a cure for the coronavirus, but an experimental drug that may speed up recovery. It is currently the most successful drug for the virus globally. 

How does it work?

Once SARS-CoV-2, invades a human cell, it replicates with the help of a viral enzyme called RdRp. Remdesivir is designed to slow or stop the virus from cloning itself by blocking this particular enzyme.

The drug works differently than antibody-based treatments or vaccines, which are designed to help a person’s immune system identify and eliminate pathogens.

Remdesivir is most effective when administered as soon as a patient begins to show symptoms. The challenge is that the drug is administered to the patient for five to 10 days through an IV.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggested that remdesivir could reduce recovery time by a median of four to 11 days compared with 15 days for those who got a placebo.

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