AHF salutes Merck for AIDS drug price cuts for hard-hit programs

In News by AHF

Over past year, AIDS group spearheaded advocacy campaign to pressure drug giant to lower prices for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) to help Americans get access to life-saving AIDS treatments

LOS ANGELES, CA (December 21, 2011)⎯AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) today saluted drug giant Merck on the news of its announcement late yesterday afternoon that is lowering the prices for its lifesaving HIV/AIDS medications for the cash-strapped AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs). ADAPs, a network of federal and state funded programs that provide life-saving HIV treatments to low income, uninsured, and underinsured individuals living with HIV/AIDS nationwide, are facing a severe financial crisis that has left as many as 10,000 people with AIDS without access to treatment over the past year. Presently there are 4,333 individuals in 12 states on ADAP waiting lists to access lifesaving HIV/AIDS medications.

“In this season of giving, we extend a loud and clear ‘thanks’ to Merck for its action lowering prices on its lifesaving AIDS drugs for ADAP,” said Michael Weinstein, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President. “Over the past year, AHF mounted a vigorous advocacy campaign targeting Merck that featured a series of actions near Merck headquarters in New Jersey, including print and television advertisements, protests at Merck’s main campus, appearances at Merck’s annual general meeting, direct mail advocacy postcards, and contact with Merck investors. At a cost to ADAPs of roughly $8,000-$9,000 per person per year, Merck’s key medication, Isentress, has been one the highest priced AIDS drugs in the US today. We salute Merck for coming around and reducing its AIDS drug pricing for these hard-hit ADAPs.”

On December 1st—World AIDS Day—President Obama proclaimed the need for all stakeholders to do more to help the struggling ADAP programs, saying: “The federal government can’t do this alone, so I’m also calling on state governments, and pharmaceutical companies, and private foundations to do their part to help Americans get access to all the life-saving treatments.” According to a press release on its website, Merck has now agreed to:

Again lower the price of ISENTRESS® (raltegravir) to eligible ADAPs, effective Jan. 1, 2012. The new price will be “frozen” and will be available as part of the existing Merck special pricing program through Dec. 31, 2013. Merck was the first company to freeze the price of an antiretroviral (ARV) therapy to ADAPs in 2003.

In addition, Merck and ACTF (ADAP Crisis Task Force) have agreed that Merck will increase operations funding and medication donations for the Welvista ADAP Program. Welvista helps address the medication needs of ADAP clients who are currently on state ADAP waiting lists by expediting access to HIV medicines through a simplified application process. Merck will also work to optimize the use of comprehensive health insurance options available to persons with HIV. The National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) reported about 40 ADAPs used ADAP funds to purchase health insurance or pay insurance premiums, co-payments and/or deductibles for individuals eligible for ADAP (provided the insurance has comparable formulary benefits to that of the ADAP). Merck and NASTAD will seek solutions that overcome barriers to more widespread use of such approaches, such as expanding enrollments in Medicare Part D, private insurance and pre-existing condition insurance plans (PCIPs).

AHF’s Recent Advocacy Targeting Merck

With the late breaking news of Merck’s price cuts for ADAPs announced yesterday, AHF also extends a heartfelt apology to Merck and its new CEO, Kenneth Frazier, who are the subject of a Grinch-themed print advocacy ad that will be running in this week’s edition of the Hunterdon County (NJ) Democrat newspaper, which had gone to print by the time AHF learned of Merck’s price concessions.

AHF also produced and mailed a “Merck: Breaking the Bank” direct mail postcard sent last week to the communities surrounding Merck’s headquarters in Whitehouse Station, NJ. The postcard highlighted the fact that Merck has made billions of dollars on AIDS drugs, leading to a nearly $100 billion market capitalization for the company, yet it had refused to lower prices for the publicly funded ADAPs.

As part of its strategy to raise the pricing issues with Merck investors, in October AHF testified before the board of CalPERS (California Public Employees Retirement System) about the pricing policies of Merck and other drug companies. At that meeting the CalPERS board agreed to contact Merck and others about their pricing policies in light of the financial difficulties experienced by ADAPs. The CalPERS action followed the move by California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, and state Treasurer John Chiang, to write to Merck and other companies and urge them to provide additional discounts to ADAPs.

“Over the past few weeks, Gilead and other companies agreed to provide additional discounts to ADAPs. Then, on World AIDS Day, the President asked companies to do more to help these programs. We thank Merck for following suit now with its own price reductions and concessions for ADAPs,” said Tom Myers, Chief of Public Affairs for AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

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