In accordance with the CDC, the remedy for hepatitis C isn’t reaching sufferers due to the fee

Hepatitis C virus

BSIP | UIG | Getty Images

The overwhelming majority of people in the US who test positive for hepatitis C have not been cured because of the high cost of oral antiviral treatments and the barriers imposed by insurance plans, federal health officials said Thursday.

Hepatitis C is often referred to as the “silent killer” because the initial infection has little or no symptoms. However, over time, the virus can cause liver damage, liver cancer, liver failure, and ultimately death.

The virus is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood, primarily through sharing needles and other devices used to inject drugs.

Breakthrough oral antiviral treatments by Gilead Sciences And Abbvie have been in the US market for almost a decade now. These pills, taken once a day for eight to 12 weeks, cure more than 95% of hepatitis C cases.

Despite the availability of these drugs, only a third of the 1 million US adults who tested positive for hepatitis C between 2013 and 2022 have been cured, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday. Health officials estimate that up to a million more people in the US are infected but don’t know they have the virus.

According to the CDC, hepatitis C contributed to the deaths of nearly 15,000 people in 2020.

“Thousands of people die every year in our country and many more suffer from an infection that has been curable for more than a decade,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s division that specializes in HIV and viral hepatitis, reported on a call Thursday.

The Biden administration has asked Congress to authorize funding for an $11 billion national program to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030. dr Francis Collins, who is leading the initiative at the White House, said the program will save thousands of lives and pay for itself by reducing healthcare costs.

CNBC Health and Science

Read the latest health coverage from CNBC:

Health insurance and hepatitis treatment costs

Health officials said the main barriers to treatment are health insurance requirements and high treatment costs. Taking pills can cost as much as $24,000 per patient.

dr Carolyn Wester, director of the CDC’s viral hepatitis division, said some health insurers require cumbersome pre-authorization before patients can receive the pills and also restrict which health care providers can prescribe the drugs.

Collins, who previously served as director of the National Institutes of Health, said community health centers that treat the uninsured cannot afford the pills for everyone. According to the CDC, only one in four uninsured adults diagnosed with hepatitis C has been cured.

Even state Medicaid plans have onerous requirements, such as proof of liver disease, sobriety and specialist involvement, Collins told reporters Thursday. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the high cost of the drugs has made it difficult for Medicaid to treat everyone infected.

Under Biden’s proposal, the federal government would pay drug companies like Gilead and Abbvie a lump sum for the drugs. The companies would then make the drugs available free of charge to the uninsured, state Medicaid programs, prison systems and people living on Indian reservations.

The proposal is based on a model introduced by Louisiana in 2019, in which the state paid Gilead subsidiary Asegua Therapeutics a lump sum over five years for enough drugs to cure nearly all Medicaid patients and inmates.

Collins said the NIH and the Food and Drug Administration are also working to approve a rapid hepatitis C test that would provide a diagnosis in an hour or less. The test would be used to diagnose and treat patients in a single visit, he said.

Comments are closed.