Three States Expand Access to Hepatitis C Treatment

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

In the past two months, three states – California, New Jersey (Hester, 2018), and Rhode Island (Miller, 2018) – have moved or plan to move to drastically reduce the number of prerequisites to gain access to Direct-Acting Agents (DAAs)to treat and cure Hepatitis C (HCV). Here, at HEAL Blog, we have been advocating for such a change since our inception, though it would be hubristic to suggest that a single blog post could account for any change to state Medicaid policies.

As discussed in the previous blog linked above, California’s efforts to expand access likely relate to a couple of Class-Action lawsuits they’ve been facing over the past few years, both from Medicaid clients and incarcerated citizens. Rather than wait to end up paying exponentially more by way of settling or outright losing in court, the state wisely chose to expand access by providing more money through the budgeting process. This additional $176 million will allow the state to open treatment to more lower-income Medi-Cal recipients, as well as those incarcerated.

New Jersey has also broadened coverage for HCV DAAs to cover all Medicaid enrollees in the state once someone is diagnosed with the virus. This policy change was also facilitated by increased funding in the FY2019 budget to the tune of $10m. (Stainton, 2018).

New Jersey’s Medicaid program, however, is run a bit differently. Since 1995, the state’s Medicaid program has been administered by way of Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) – private companies who are contracted to provide and disburse benefits and payments to Medicaid recipients in exchange for a per member per month capitation payment. Currently, there are five private insurers who offer these services: Aetna, Amerigroup NJ, Horizon NJ Health, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan NJ, and WellCare. MCOs are designed to save state’s money by outsourcing the work to private companies for cheaper than the state itself would spend on salaries, pensions, and benefits to administer the program. Of the five MCOs in New Jersey, all but oneplan (Amerigroup NJ) provide drug coverage only for Mavyret (AbbVie), the newest pangenotpyic DAA drug on the market (which is conveniently also the cheapest). Amerigroup alone provides coverage to virtually every other DAA still on the market.

The problem with MCOs is that, because they are private companies providing this service, they are not always quick to adapt to new rules and regulations. There are several states which employ MCOs alongside traditional Fee-For-Service (FFS) Medicaid programs. The rub is that MCOs are required by law to provide the same coverage for clients as the FFS program, meaning that, if the FFS Program covers all available DAA drugs, the MCOs must also offer the same drug coverage. This is rarely the case, and few people, either from the state governments, or individuals who enroll in these plans, ever really push the point hard enough to ensure that MCOs are meeting this requirement. In the case of New Jersey, there is no FFS Medicaid programs; it’s entirely operated via MCOs, which essentially means that it will be difficult for New Jersey’s government to ensure that clients in all five MCOs are receiving access to this expanded treatment.

Finally, Rhode Island has also broadened coverage for HCV treatments. This was accomplished as a result of persistent lobbying by the Rhode Island Center for Justice, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School, and community activists and lawyers (Miller).

The ball got rolling on this change when a state resident receiving legal representation after being denied treatment by the state’s Medicaid program. The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation has been tireless in its efforts to expand access to treatment of chronic illnesses both by government-funded programs, and by private insurers. Over the past three years, the Center has repeatedly stepped in on behalf of Medicaid recipients and privately insured individuals to use public pressure and threat of legal action to ensure that patients receive the coverage to which they are entitled, either by Federal law, or by state mandate. They have worked with several states to create HCV medication pilot programs that allow state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) to offer coverage for HCV drugs that they might otherwise never receive.

All three of these states are moving in the right direction. Hopefully, we will see more forward momentum from other states in the coming months.

References:

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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.

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