SEPTA files class action lawsuit over expensive Hepatitis C drug

     This undated handout photo provided by Gilead Sciences shows the Hepatitis-C medication Sovaldi. A $1,000-per-pill drug that insurers are reluctant to pay for has quickly become the treatment of choice for a liver-wasting viral disease that affects more than 3 million Americans. In less than six months, prescriptions for Sovaldi have eclipsed all other hepatitis-C pills combined, according to new data from IMS Health. (Gilead Sciences/AP Photo)

    This undated handout photo provided by Gilead Sciences shows the Hepatitis-C medication Sovaldi. A $1,000-per-pill drug that insurers are reluctant to pay for has quickly become the treatment of choice for a liver-wasting viral disease that affects more than 3 million Americans. In less than six months, prescriptions for Sovaldi have eclipsed all other hepatitis-C pills combined, according to new data from IMS Health. (Gilead Sciences/AP Photo)

    Philadelphia’s transit agency, SEPTA, has filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in Philadelphia against the drugmaker, Gilead, over the cost of its Hepatitis C drug known as Sovaldi.

    The three month regimen costs about $84,000 dollars and SEPTA says it has already spent more than $2 million on it.

    Sovaldi hit the market last December. Compared to past treatments, it boasts fewer side effects and a higher likelihood, 90 percent or more, that a patient will clear certain strains of the virus.

    Nick Chimicles, a Haverford lawyer representing SEPTA in the suit, said already this year, the drug has cost SEPTA’s health fund at least $2.4 million, “hemorraging” the agency as it tries to ensure “the drug reaches the people it needs to reach.”

    He said it amounts to price discrimination by Gilead. “This is not a reasonable profit, this is price gauging and this is something that has got to stop,” he said.

    Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that over time can lead to liver failure or cancer. A recent Philadelphia Health Department analysis found that about 3 percent, or some 47,000 Philadelphia residents, have HCV.

    Gilead said it just received the lawsuit and has no comment for now.  In the past it has defended the drug’s price, pointing to its long-term benefits from a short-term treatment, one that can prevent the need for costly liver transplants down the road.

    Chimicles is not aware of any other health plan or company that has yet filed a lawsuit against Gilead over the drug’s price. The price, however, has been a major point of debate across the country since it came out last year. 

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.