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How much is too much to charge for a life-saving drug?

There's a new drug regimen being touted as a potential cure for a dangerous liver virus that causes hepatitis C.  But it costs $84,000 -- or $1,000 a pill. And that price tag is prompting outrage from some consumers and a scramble by insurers to figure out which patients should get the drug —and who pays for it, Kaiser Health News reports. 

Called Sovaldi, the drug is made by California-based Gilead Sciences Inc. and is the latest in handful of new treatments for hepatitis C, a chronic infection that afflicts at least 3 million Americans and is a leading cause of liver failure. It was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in December.

Medicaid programs may be particularly hard hit because they are likely to cover a higher proportion of patients with the virus and cannot raise premiums like commercial insurers. .Medicaid managed care firms are paid a set amount per member per month by the state to cover all their medical costs.

J. Mario Molina, president and CEO of Molina Healthcare, one of the nation's largest Medicaid managed care companies, is seeking emergency guidelines from the 11 states in which it operates.   

If left untreated, hepatitis C causes liver damage over the course of decades. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all baby boomers be tested for the blood-borne virus, which often goes undiagnosed because it produces few symptoms. It is spread mainly by intravenous drug use, but many people were unknowingly infected by poorly sterilized medical equipment and blood transfusions before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992.  Read the story.  

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