By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger
The state of Colorado took the enormous first step towards eradicating Hepatitis C (HCV) in the U.S. by lifting HCV treatment requirements for citizens who receive health benefits from the state’s Medicaid program. The move comes after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado filed a class-action lawsuit against the state for continuing to ration HCV care for Medicaid patients, and after health officials in the state asked for those restrictions to be removed (Brown, 2017).
The ACLU has been instrumental in winning treatment for patients living with HCV in the country’s incarcerated populations, filing suits against several states’ Departments of Corrections for failing to adequately supply HCV treatment to inmates whose HCV status is known. Inmates are the only Americans who are guaranteed healthcare coverage under the Constitution after a 1976 Supreme Court ruling found that “deliberate indifference” to an inmate’s medical needs constitution “cruel and unusual punishment” under the 8th Amendment (Estelle v. Gamble, 1976).
In both incarceration settings and state Medicaid programs, various hurdles have been put in place that require patients to do extra legwork to gain access to treatment that the programs must offer in order to save money on what were extremely expensive revolutionary HCV Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs) that effectively cure patients of HCV. The most expensive of these medications, Harvoni (Gilead), has a Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC) of $94,500 ($1,125 per pill) for 12 weeks of treatment – the standard regimen length used to achieve Sustained Virologic Response (SVR – “cure”). Since Harvoni’s 2014 release, several new DAAs have come on the market, and after much outcry from patients, advocates, and the U.S. Congress, prices have been driven down. The most recent DAA therapies – Vosevi (Gilead) and Mavyret (AbbVie) – entered the market at $74,760 ($890 per pill for 12 weeks) and $26,400 ($471.42 per pill for 8 weeks) respectively.
Mavyret, AbbVie’s most recent HCV therapy, has the potential to be a financial game changer for state-run healthcare programs that have struggled to ensure that patients receive the treatment they need while not simultaneously destroying their pharmacy budgets to pay for it. That said, WAC costs serve only as a baseline price for any drug that enters the market, after which the various programs and insurers (payors) begin a negotiation process with the drug manufacturers to determine the final cost paid after rebates, pricing agreements, and deductions. The conventional wisdom is, “Well, nobody pays the WAC price.” Unfortunately, these final prices are not readily available to the public, as they fall under existing Trade Secrets laws that prevent the programs from publicly stating the final cost they pay for the drugs.
State Medicaid programs have been under considerable fire from HCV advocates, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), who have long stated that Medicaid programs should remove barriers to treatment that have included fibrosis score requirements (“Is the patient’s liver damaged badly enough?”) and abstinence from drugs or alcohol. Colorado’s removal of these barrier to care is a phenomenal first step that should be followed by other state Medicaid programs.
- Brown, J. (2017, December 01). Colorado lifts restrictions for treating hepatitis C patients; no longer need to have advanced liver damage to receive drugs. Denver, CO: Digital First Media: The Denver Post. Retrieved from: http://www.denverpost.com/2017/12/01/colorado-hepatitis-c-medicaid-patients-can-receive-antiviral-drugs/
- Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/429/97
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.