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STDWatch
Hannah Kingston

Jul 06, 20227 min read

Average Cost of HIV Medication

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In the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, getting HIV was a death sentence, because there were no effective treatments. If there had been an AIDS pill then, price would have been almost irrelevant. People would have been willing to pay anything to save their lives. Sadly, there was no treatment for the virus, and many people died of AIDS.

Now, there are a number of different medications available that can treat HIV infection and prevent it from progressing to AIDS. Although these are lifesaving drugs, many people are understandably concerned about the cost of a medication that will have to be taken for the rest of their lives.

What is the average annual cost of HIV treatment?

There’s really no way to specify the exact cost for any pharmaceutical, including medications for HIV/AIDS. This is because each pharmacy actually sets their own prices for drugs. Because of that, the HIV/AIDS medicine cost can vary in different regions of the country, from pharmacy to pharmacy, and even from day to day at the same pharmacy. It’s impossible to predict the prices for HIV/AIDS drugs precisely. 

Not every patient uses exactly the same drugs, either. There are many different options available for treating HIV and preventing progression to AIDS. This is another reason why predicting the specific cost of HIV/AIDS meds is difficult.

Why are HIV drugs so expensive?

There are a few different reasons that treatment for HIV costs so much. One is that there was a lot of research and development that went into developing these medications. It’s expensive to develop a new drug, and drug companies generally try to recoup these costs through the prices of drugs. This is one factor that contributes to the HIV/AIDS medication price.

HIV patients also generally need more than one medication in order to keep the virus under control and prevent it from progressing to AIDS. This is often known as the “HIV cocktail” or the “AIDS cocktail.” The AIDS cocktail cost is higher because it contains multiple meds. Sometimes, the virus develops resistance to one of these, and patients must switch medications in order to avoid progression of the disease.

Another reason that HIV/AIDS drugs are so expensive is because many of them are still not available in generic form. After a drug company develops a medication, they have a period of a few years when they’re the only company allowed to manufacture and sell it. Later, generic versions of the same active ingredient become allowed. Many HIV/AIDS drugs are in that early period where generics aren’t permitted, and so there are no competitors to help drive down the cost.

What’s the best insurance for HIV meds?

Under the Affordable Care Act passed in 2008, there are certain things that every health insurance plan must cover. Treatment for HIV/AIDS is one of these. Although insurers used to consider HIV a “preexisting condition” and refuse to cover the cost for many patients, they’re no longer legally allowed to do this. If you have health insurance, then your HIV meds must be covered, although you may still have to pay your copays and deductibles as specified under your plan.

For those who are uninsured and HIV-positive, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is one option. This program provides HIV meds at low or no cost to people with low incomes.

It’s important that HIV be caught in its early stages. Starting treatment early helps to keep the virus at very low levels in the body, which helps to prevent progression of the infection to AIDS. HIV causes no symptoms in the early stages in many people who are infected. If you think that you might have been exposed to HIV, it’s important to get an HIV test to find out whether you have the virus. You can go to a clinic, or get a home HIV test.

Sources

The Affordable Care Act and HIV/AIDS. US Department of Health and Human Services (2022). https://www.hiv.gov/federal-response/policies-issues/the-affordable-care-act-and-hiv-aids. Accessed 9 May 2022.

Cost Considerations and Antiretroviral Therapy. US Department of Health and Human Services (2021). https://clinicalinfo.hiv.gov/en/guidelines/adult-and-adolescent-arv/cost-considerations-and-antiretroviral-therapy. Accessed 9 May 2022.

Exclusivity and Generic Drugs: What Does It Mean? Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/files/drugs/published/Exclusivity-and-Generic-Drugs--What-Does-It-Mean-.pdf. Accessed 9 May 2022.

Paying for HIV Care and Treatment. US Department of Health and Human Services (2022). https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/staying-in-hiv-care/hiv-treatment/paying-for-hiv-care-and-treatment. Accessed 9 May 2022.

Way MT, Ingle SM. Life expectancy of HIV-positive adults: a review. Sex Health 2011 Dec;8(4):526-33. doi: 10.1071/SH11046.


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