Price hikes on HIV drugs, averaging 28% since 2003 according to an AIDS Treatment Activist Coalition report, are straining health systems—and HIVers are feeling the pinch. Treatment activist Nelson Vergel, 46, who runs Houston’s Program for Wellness Restoration, has seen his med costs creep up—and now coughs out $1,000 monthly. “It’s like another rent,” he says, “and I’m lucky. I work with people on AIDS Drug Assistance Program wait lists every day.” New drugs Reyataz and Aptivus debuted as the most expensive in their class, implying that without pricing regulations, costs will keep climbing.

“Doctors tell me they don’t even bother prescribing Fuzeon (the most expensive of all HIV meds) because some state’s ADAP can’t cover it,” says Vergel. ADAP wait lists would shorten if drugs were more affordable, he adds. Many states are beginning to restrict the number of drugs that Medicaid will cover for each patient, while private insurers amp up copays and premiums. Most European nations, meanwhile, have laws freezing drug prices. While the U.S. cost for HIV med Norvir has shot up 400% since 2003, the European tab has remained steady.

The U.S. has no price-freezing legislation—yet. A proposed California law would require companies to offer cheap meds to a new state drug program. Members of the Community Catalyst Prescription Access Litigation Project, a health-care advocacy group, filed a suit in 2001 against 19 drug companies for artificially inflating prices, which if successful could force down costs, saving millions. “Regulations won’t change until people start demanding it,” says Vergel. “There is no reason for drugs to cost this much.” When meds cost as much as a house, it’s time for remodeling.                              

Quick tips to get meds
Ask your doc:

  • To connect you to an HIV case manager with drug-benefits expertise.
  • About patient-assistance programs. Also check out programs at
  • For info on clinical trials for new approved drugs.

Plus, check out ATAC,, and lobby for treatment reform.