SPRINGFIELD – State prison officials say a controversial new drug being used to combat hepatitis C among inmates may cost far less than earlier estimates.
Responding to legislative concerns that the drug Sovaldi may be too expensive for the state to use on prisoners, Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said the cost could be less than $6 million next year.
The new estimate came after prison medical officials analyzed the new drug for a month, he said.
In April, the Herald & Review's Springfield Bureau reported the cost of treating infected inmates with Sovaldi could break the $60 million barrier based on the thousands of inmates who have the deadly virus and the $61,000 cost of using the new drug.
That report spurred state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, to sign on as a co-sponsor of legislation seeking to ban Corrections officials from using Sovaldi because of the high cost.
"I don't care if they use that drug or not, as long as the costs are reasonable," Mitchell said Tuesday.
Sovaldi has become the focal point of a national debate over the high cost of certain drugs.
The maker of the drug, Gilead Sciences Inc., has been praised for creating a treatment regimen that is 95 percent effective in curing the life-threatening blood-borne infection. But the company also has been asked by members of Congress to explain its price structure. One health insurer called the cost "outrageous."
Shaer said previous estimates of the cost to Illinois were "wildly inaccurate."
"IDOC respects the earnest efforts of legislators who share our desire to save taxpayer dollars, but this bill is unnecessary and appears borne of inadequate information," he noted in an email.
Said Mitchell: "I don't know if I really believe them. It's a very expensive drug. We don't mean to be cruel to people. It's just that the costs are so high."
Shaer also said Illinois could run afoul of the law if it doesn't provide adequate medical treatment to inmates.
"We urge those who find unacceptable even extremely limited use of Sovaldi by IDOC, to consider the high cost of lawsuits certain to result from failing to meet our legal obligation to use the most appropriate drug -- even in an extremely limited number of cases. Health care of inmates is not an IDOC choice. It is a legal and constitutional matter, not a legislative one," Shaer noted.
For now, the proposed ban on Sovaldi is idling in the House with less than four weeks left in the spring legislative session.
The legislation is 6226.