By: Marcus Hopkins, Blogger
This past week, the Community Access National Network (CANN), of which the HEAL Blog is a part, introduced their latest endeavor – the HIV/HCV Co-Infection Watch. This new project aims to bring attention to what we at HEAL Blog have been saying from Day One: the HIV/HCV co-infection crisis in America is not only looming, but is already here.
Hepatitis B- and C-related liver disease has become the leading cause of non-AIDS-relate death for people living with HIV. Viral Hepatitis progresses faster and causes more liver-related health problems in people living with HIV than among the HCV mono-infected population. As such, we here at HEAL Blog, as well as others around the nation, have been closely monitoring the situation in terms of treatment.
Combating HCV had been an arduous and side effect-ridden process, laden with drug therapies that many patients quit taking because of their intolerability. In 2014, however, newer drug therapies with much higher SVR (Sustained Virologic Response – “cure”) rates and greater tolerability finally received final FDA approval, and became available to consumers. While these new therapies are excellent alternatives, the high cost of treatment has left many parties with vested interests in affordable and accessible health care gravely concerned about how these medications will be afforded, either by consumers or payers.
Compounding the concern is the fact that over half of those living with HIV/AIDS are living at or below the Federal Poverty Line. As such, many of these patients rely on programs such as Medicaid and the AIDS Drugs Assistance Program, a Federally funded base grant included in Part B of the Ryan White Care Act. Without these programs, many HIV/HCV co-infected patients would not be able to effectively combat their HCV, potentially leading to an outsized morbidity rate in comparison with the HCV mono-infected population.
It was for these reasons that the HIV/HCV Co-Infection Watch was created.
The primary function of the Watch is to monitor the states of these programs on a state-by-state level, researching and providing information about which states’ Medicaid and ADAP programs provide coverage for HCV treatment. This will eventually include a comprehensive list of which states cover which types of therapies, whether or not Prior Authorizations are required, and whether or not these programs provide patients with additional linkage to coverage options via Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs).
Additionally, the Watch, along with CANN, will be advocating for changes in the way that HIV and HCV are monitored, as the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reporting of co-infection and morbidity statistics is very widely estimated. At present time, most states’ Epidemiology Departments track HIV and HCV separately, without checking to see if there is any intersection between diagnoses. As such, gathering accurate statistical data is incredibly difficult.
Eventually, we hope to turn the HIV/HCV Co-Infection Watch into a dynamic website, serving as a portal for patients, providers, payers, and advocates, providing up-to-date data for each state, as well as contact information and other helpful co-infection-related resources.
The HIV/HCV Co-Infection Watch, while providing data-driven content, will be created from a patient-centered focus. Our goal in developing this project is to monitor and effect changes that benefit the patient, the primary question being, “As a patient, would I find this process user-friendly?”
As anyone who’s ever relied upon one of these programs can tell you, rarely is this the case. Aside from the myriad forms required just to apply for these services, the income requirements are often not clearly defined, state-run websites can be user-unfriendly, and the process is simply too confusing. When people are faced with a life-threatening illness, this is the process that should be the least of their worries. We aim to provide easy-to-implement suggestions that can help to provide all concerned parties with a better experience.
Obviously, this undertaking is quite daunting, and as such, it will be a growing project as the year goes forward. I am, however, very excited to be working with the Community Access National Network to bring those ambitions to fruition. Thank you for continuing to read HEAL Blog, and for staying tuned for the great things to come in 2015.
Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.