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The $84,000 Hepatitis C drug made a drug company rich. But now it might be backfiring.

Tribune News Service

Sovaldi is an incredibly effective Hepatitis C treatment that's also incredibly expensive. Its $84,000 price tag has caused no shortage of heartburn in the American health care system, an issue I detailed at length in this story a few weeks ago.

For months now, insurance plans and consumer advocacy groups have railed against Solvadi's manufacturer, Gilead, for pricing the drug at a point where it's unaffordable for many. They succeeded at expressing lots of rage and fury — but failed to get the price down. Sovaldi works way better than other Hepatitis C treatments, with fewer side effects. Since it was, for many, the best treatment on the market, insurers begrudgingly ponied up.

This, however, all ends today. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new Hepatitis C drug, Viekira Pak. Insurers think this new drug from Gilead competitor AbbVie is just as good as Sovaldi. And it looks like Gilead is about to get some fierce fire for its high pricing strategy.

Express Scripts is the country's largest pharmacy benefit manager. It's a company that health insurers partner with to figure out which drugs to cover, and how much to charge for them. And Express Scripts announced Monday that, come 2015, it's switching to Viekira Pak — and cutting Sovaldi out of its plans entirely.

Express Scripts hasn't said how much it will pay for the new drug, which retails for $83,319. But the chief medical officer there, Steve Miller, did tell Bloomberg his company got a "significant discount" from the drug maker in return for exclusivity.

A statement from Miller makes it clear, too: this is all about price.

"We want all hepatitis C patients to receive the best care our healthcare system can deliver, but that option simply wasn’t possible until today," Miller said in a statement. "Our formulary approach makes specialty medications more affordable."

When I wrote the longer story about Sovaldi earlier this month, there was lots of worry that the American health care system really couldn't stop high drug prices. This new news from Express Scripts suggests that there is a way out there to tamp down on expensive health care prices — and it's called payback.

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