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Shocked by the rapid adoption of a new $84,000 hepatitis C treatment, U.S. health insurers are trying to make sure they aren’t blindsided by other drugs being developed and are looking for ways to limit their use from the day they are launched. According to the article in Reuters Health 30,000 people have received hepatitis drug Sovaldi so far, and that sales hit a record-breaking $2.3 billion within a few months. The treatment, typically 84 pills taken over 12 weeks, completely cures the disease in more than 90 percent of patients. As many as 3.2 million Americans are infected by hepatitis C, and the cost of giving most of them Sovaldi would surpass $200 billion. Some insurers have already put conditions on who can get the drug, and states including California and Texas have slowed or put treatment on hold while they study what to do.

Insurers warned that these unforeseen costs will cut 2014 earnings and require rate hikes. Now, at industry conferences, in conversations with investors, and in private, they are pushing Gilead’s rivals, a group that includes AbbVie Inc, Merck and Co and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, to discount their own new hepatitis C treatments when they come to market starting this fall. Such a high-profile campaign by insurers before drugs are even approved is new.

They are also signaling they will restrict who can get coverage for new cholesterol drugs being developed by Amgen Inc, Pfizer Inc and a partnership of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc and Sanofi SA. By law, insurers cannot deny access to new drugs if they represent a real improvement for patients, leaving drug companies with the upper hand in most price discussions. When comparable competitors, or a generic version is on the market about a decade later, insurers have room to steer patients away from the new drugs, and pharmaceutical companies cut prices steeply and give big discounts. But insurers have not faced such a highly effective drug aimed at a widespread disease that is so expensive and so quickly adopted. The previous record for a drug reaching blockbuster status was set in 2011, when hepatitis C therapy Incivek from Vertex Pharmaceuticals raked in $1.56 billion for the entire year. Sovaldi has sold more in a quarter of the time. As a result, insurers are taking a harder line on which patients should get Sovaldi, based on the drug’s clinical data.

Sovaldi is “game-changing” for insurers’ thinking, said John Whang, co-president of Reimbursement Intelligence, a consulting firm that helps pharmaceutical companies set prices. The only way for them to respond is to control the volume of treatment used, he said.

In a sign of how serious the industry has become, the largest insurer lobby group last week took Gilead to task at a public conference. “The company in this case is asking for a blank check and you can’t give anyone anymore a blank check because it will blow up family budgets, state Medicaid budgets, employer costs and wreak havoc on the federal debt,” said Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Gilead argues that Sovaldi’s price is worth it, since it will replace even costlier spending on hospital visits and treatments for cirrhosis or liver failure. It has not budged on price for the hepatitis C drug, although Gregg Alton, Gilead’s executive vice president for corporate and medical affairs, acknowledged that insurers are going to start negotiating.

U.S. drug spending reached a record $329 billion in 2013, driven by a double-digit increase in prices for new cancer, HIV and hepatitis C therapies. Express Scripts, the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit manager, expects spending on such specialty drugs to rise an additional 63 percent from 2014 to 2016, driven by an 1,800 percent increase in hepatitis C drug costs.More scrutiny of new pricing is likely ahead as the country comes to terms with how it should pay for expensive drugs, according to John Castellani, Chief Executive Officer of leading drug industry lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or PhRMA.

The next big price battle centers on a new class of cholesterol drugs known as PCSK9 inhibitors, which help the liver to clear “bad” LDL cholesterol from the blood. Large-scale studies show the new drugs can help patients who cannot tolerate, or get enough benefit from, the most widely-used cholesterol drugs, statins. The PCSK9 therapies are expected to cost thousands of dollars a year, far above the price of statins sold as generics. Drugmakers are expected to push for the new medicines to be used by 7 million to 20 million people, or up to 30 percent of the 71 million Americans with high cholesterol. Insurers already are questioning whether the estimates of use are legitimate. “There is really no need to take these new medications and spread them out across a larger community of people who will respond to existing treatments, many of which are generic,” Aetna Inc’s National Medical Director for Pharmacy Policy Ed Pezalla said in an interview.