Protest 400% Norvir Price Hike
YOU CAN STILL CALL AND FAX ABBOTT RIGHT NOW· Abbott recently
increased the cost of its protease inhibitor Norvir by over 400% (5 times!)
download Vulture flyer (pdf) from www.atac-usa.org website.
further information on Price Hike (c/o AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition website)
TELL CEO MILES WHITE TO
Price of AIDS drug soars fivefold
Pete Widowitz, an AIDS patient who has used Norvir successfully since
the mid-1990s, discovered the price increase last month when his pharmacist
called about a refill Widowitz had phoned in.
Widowitz pays for the medications and then is reimbursed by his insurance
company. So the pharmacist wanted him to know that his cost for Norvir,
one of several drugs he takes, had increased from $665 per month to more
than $3,200 nearly five times.
"This is an international issue now," said Fred Schaich, president
of the International Foundation for Alternative Research on AIDS (IFARA).
Schaich said AIDS activists in many countries are organizing to put pressure
on Abbott, which says the price increase was necessary to help fund creation
of other drugs for AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and HIV
(human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS.
Locally, about 30 doctors and other health providers who care for HIV/AIDS
patients have protested to Abbott, a well-established pharmaceutical firm
headquartered in Illinois. They warned that the "unconscionable price
increase" for the drug will have "long-term serious consequences."
"We view this as very unethical," said Dr. Rob Killian, a Seattle
family physician who signed the letter. "Not in my 15-year history
have I seen anything like this for a drug out for years, to increase
the price this much."
Abbott spokeswoman Laureen Cassidy said the higher price helps pay to
develop new drugs and new formulations of existing drugs. "This is
about preserving patient choice," she said.
For example, the company is now developing new versions of HIV/AIDS drugs
that don't require refrigeration, important in the developing world, Cassidy
said. Abbott provides Norvir at cost in Africa, according to its Web site.
"There is an escalating cost for bringing new drugs to market for
the world, both domestically and for developing countries, and Abbott
has been very much a part of the solution, including increasing access
initiatives in the developing world," Cassidy said.
Cassidy said public programs providing assistance to AIDS patients will
be protected from the price increase until June 2005. Nationwide, about
half of the patients taking the drug get help through state Medicaid or
an AIDS Drug Assistance Program, she said. Abbott also is enlarging its
patient-assistance program, which allows people without insurance to get
the drugs for free, she said.
"While we will be sheltered (from the increase), we won't be sheltered
very long," said Jack Jourden, director of the state Department of
Health office that supervises the state's assistance program. The price
increase, he said, "doesn't make sense to us."
Dr. Brad Roter, a consultant to the HIV Early Intervention Program
this state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which helps patients with drug
costs and insurance premiums said the increase may cause a serious
cash-flow problem in some states. Washington and many other states pay
the new price upfront and then get the difference back as a rebate from
It's now very unusual to use any other protease inhibitor without Norvir,
said Dr. Peter Shalit, Widowitz's doctor, "because they just work
so much better with them."
About 80 percent of the patients taking Norvir, said Cassidy, the Abbott
spokeswoman, take only one or two pills daily, instead of the 12 per day
that used to be a typical dose.
A daily dose of 12 pills used to cost about $20, Cassidy said. Now, even
with the higher cost per pill, a typical daily dose of one pill costs
about $8.50, and a daily dose of two pills about $17. "It's well
below what most protease inhibitors are priced at; it's the lowest-priced
protease inhibitor, even with the price increase."
Abbott is pricing Norvir as though it is a "full component"
in the drug cocktail, complained Shalit. "But it's not being used
for its activity against the virus it's used as a booster for the
While Abbott vigorously denies it, Shalit and others believe the Norvir
price increase was aimed at Abbott's competition. In essence, Shalit said,
increasing Norvir's price raises the cost of taking Abbott's competitors'
drugs used in combination therapy. That could push patients toward Abbott's
newer drug, Kaletra, a combination drug with Norvir built in. With the
Norvir price increase, Kaletra's competition has become more expensive
than Kaletra, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000.
Doctors and pharmacists say HIV/AIDS drug therapies are very individualized
what works for one person may not for another, and some tolerate
side effects of one drug but not another. So finding a combination that
works therapeutically and is also tolerable is sometimes difficult
in some patients, impossible.
Widowitz says he trusts Shalit implicitly. But he knows firsthand how
tricky medications can be for someone with AIDS. It took him about a year
to get used to Norvir, he said, and it was difficult to tolerate its side
Widowitz says he's lucky because his private insurance, which now costs
$875 per month, will cover the drug. But he worries that the huge price
increase will affect premiums, already steeply escalating. Unlike some
of his friends, he has an insurance policy no longer sold
that doesn't require him to pay a percentage of drug costs once he has
paid his deductible.
"There are people way worse off than me," says Widowitz, 59,
a former computer-project manager. "They're really going to be hurt."
"I know there is capitalism and free enterprise and all that
everybody has a right to make a profit but isn't this like during
a national disaster charging $20 for a gallon of water or something?"