By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger
Numerous films and novels have predicted this fate: there’s a fatal disease and someone invents a cure, but nobody can get it, and people die because of it. It’s a metaphor about the dangers of unchecked capitalism – the greedy owner of the cure who holds the rest of the world hostage until his demands are met.
And here it is – 2018, and we’ve had a cure for Hepatitis C (HCV) that’s easily tolerated since 2013, but it’s so prohibitively expensive that private and public payors, alike, have strictly limited access to it. They make patients, physicians, and pharmacists jump through as many hoops as possible to get the cure, from the strictest prerequisite abstinence guidelines, to allowing the disease to progress until it’s “bad enough” to cover it.
Sure, the cost of the newest drugs to cure HCV have dropped to ¼ of the introductory price of Sovaldi (Gilead), but, still – $30k for eight weeks of treatment? That’s still prohibitively expensive, even with the deep discounts and rebates given to many payors by manufacturers during the negotiation process. Those expenditures are only going to increase.
Now, there is evidence suggesting that undiagnosed HCV is more prevalent than undiagnosed HIV (Torian et al, 2018). Since the 1990s, hospitals and emergency departments have actively touted “routine HIV” screening, but have failed to deliver on those promises:
Lessons from HIV are both instructive and sobering: routine HIV screening is not truly routine; linkage continues to challenge even experienced providers; and linkage and treatment initiation vary widely across sites (Torian et al, 2018).
The findings from this study indicate not only a need to increase screening and linkages to care for HIV, but that this increase needs to be spread to HCV, as well. The latter argument, while correct, is unlikely to occur, in no small part because states and patients simply don’t have the resources to successfully implement this type of public health initiative.
Beyond just testing, minorities and Medicaid recipients – a significant portion of those infected with HCV – enjoy some of the lowest treatment rates in the nation (Wong et al, 2018). Hispanic patients were siginifantly less likely to receive treatment for HCV than white patients, and those on Medicaid, state insurance, or indigent care or no insurance were significantly less like to receive treatment than those with commercial insurance.
That last part comes to a head in rural America, where patients are far likelier to rely upon Medicaid as their primary payor for medical services, and where Injection Drug Use (IDU) of prescription opioids and/or heroin is high. In states like Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky, IDU and rates of overdose go hand in hand with increased rates of both Hepatitis B and HCV.
The sad reality is that, given the existing political makeup of both state and Federal legislatures, it’s highly unlikely that the significant resources needed to effectively combat the spread of HCV will be allocated. At a time when budgets are being slashed in order to accommodate tax cuts for corporation and the wealthy, to suggest that conservative lawmakers are suddenly going to provide an exponential (or even incremental) increase in funding is unrealistic.
- Torian, L.V., Felsen, U.R., Qiang, X., Laraque, F., Rude, E.J., Rose, H., Cole, A., et al. (2018, April 04). Undiagnosed HIV and HCV Infection in a New York City Emergency Department, 2015. American Journal of Public Health 108, no. 5 (May 1, 2018): pp. 652-658. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2018.304321 Retrieved from: https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304321
- Wong, R.J., Jain, M.K., Therapondos, G., Shiffman, M.L., Kshirsagar, O., Clark, C., & Thamer, M. (2018, March 09). Race/ethnicity and insurance status disparities in access to direct acting antivirals for hepatitis C virus treatment. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. DOI: 10.1038/s41395-018-0033-8. Retrieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41395-018-0033-8
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.