Price surge for HIV prevention drug pushing it out of reach for many

FOSTER CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- Major cities across the country have increased their efforts to get to zero new HIV infections. San Francisco and New York have set a goal of doing so by the year 2020.

The preventive drug commonly known as "PrEP" is part of that strategy. But the company that makes the drug is coming under fire for increasing its price by 45 percent in the past six years.

As a preventive HIV drug, Truvada has been called a game-changer.

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Gilead in Foster City which makes the drug says it reduces the risk of HIV by 99 percent.

"We are absolutely on the edge of getting to zero new infections," says Supervisor Jeff Sheehy who has been an AIDS activist for years.

He is critical of Gilead for increasing the price of the drug by 45 percent since it came out six years ago as a preventive drug.

The drug is covered by most insurance companies, but there is still an out-of-pocket expense.

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The budget presented by the mayor of San Francisco included extra money for preventive HIV measures including PrEP for those who can't afford health insurance.

"Anyone who comes in despite their insurance situation despite what their financial circumstances are, that we work with them to get financial support," explained Lance Toma, director of the San Francisco Community Health Center.

"I know it's easy to get it in California, relatively speaking, but when you look at other states that haven't expanded Medicare, who really haven't embraced Obama Care, people cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for this product," added Sheehy.

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Medicaid programs are also spending more on the drug. These programs, already financially strapped, expect the cost to continue to rise.

Gilead would not tell us why it has dramatically increased the price of the drug but said it is now contributing more to its assistance program which helps patients with their out-of-pocket expenses. "By increasing the annual benefit cap, we hope to help additional eligible people access and adhere to their prescribed therapy," read part of their statement.

A generic version has been approved the Food and Drug Administration, but it's not clear when it will be released in the U.S.

To learn more about PREP click here.
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