Tag Archives: Veterans

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Requests Increase in HCV Funding

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

Cover of the FY 2018 Budget Submission

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has laid out plans to continue their open treatment policy for eligible veterans living with Hepatitis C (HCV) into 2019 and beyond. The budget request sent to Congress – Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and FY 2019 Advance Appropriations – highlights some of the successes the program has achieved in delivering comprehensive HCV treatment using Direct Acting Agents (DAAs) to cure HCV, as well as puts forth a request for an additional $751 million in funding specifically for HCV treatment. This is a $151.2 million increase from the 2018 Advance Appropriations requested in the previous year’s document.

The VA began offering treatment to all veterans in its health system regardless of their disease stage in March 2016 (Kime, 2016), a major step forward for the program, as the high cost of newer DAA drugs have proven prohibitive to decisively moving to eradicate HCV within other government healthcare programs enrollees. This also allowed veterans who were “…waiting on an appointment for community care through the Choice program [to] turn to their local VA facility for this treatment or elect to continue to receive treatment through Choice.” The Veterans Choice Program – introduced in 2015 – is a temporary benefit that allows veterans who were enrolled in VA health care prior to August 01, 2014, or who are eligible to enroll as a recently discharged combat veteran, to receive care in their communities, rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility (Peterson, 2015).

In the document recently sent to Congress, the VA also touted some of the successes of the program:

  • As of December 2016, 78.8% of Veterans in care in the 1945-1965 Birth Cohort – those most likely to have HCV in the U.S. – were screened for HCV, and the VA estimates that an additional 15,500 veterans in VA care remain undiagnosed.
  • From January 2014 through March 2017, the VA has treated over 84,000 veterans with cure rates over 90%.
  • As of February 2017, 61,000 veterans diagnosed with HCV were potentially eligible for treatment.
  • The VA estimates that approximately 80% of all veterans with HCV enrolled in VA care will be treated by 2020. Veterans remaining in the untreated pool at that time are estimated to be more difficult to engage in care due to issues like homelessness, mental health, and substance use comorbidities, or may be uninterested or unwilling to receive HCV treatment.
  • The number of total national HCV treatments increased from approximately 2,800/year in 2011-2013, to over 30,000 in 2016. This growth reflects the additional demand for HCV treatment with DAAs, beginning the second quarter of 2014 through the present.

The VA’s approach to treating veterans is a success story that CAN be repeated by other government-run healthcare programs, but doing so will require state and Federal governments to exponentially increase funding in order to eradicate HCV within the populations most likely to become infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the vast majority of new HCV infections is a result of Injection Drug Use (IDU) among rural and suburban white men and women aged 18-35 (Dwyer, 2017). The populations are likely to also have lower incomes that may make them eligible for coverage under state Medicaid programs (in Medicaid Expansion states).

The full VA Budget Request can be viewed at the following link:

Department of Veterans Affairs – FY 2018 and FY 2019 Advance Appropriations

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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A Disservice to Veterans and a Time to Rethink Opioid Distribution

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

Data obtained by the Associated Press (AP) from the Federal government indicates that drug theft from Veterans Affairs and other Federal hospitals have jumped nearly tenfold since 2009, with 2,457 incidents of reported theft in 2016 (Associated Press, 2017). What is unsurprising to those of us living in rural and Appalachian states is that most of the drugs stolen are prescription opioids. So great is the problem that two Congressional representatives – Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN) and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) – have asked the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) to better explain its efforts to stem drug theft and loss in light of data being made public (Yen, 2017).

Logo: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Opioid drugs have always been highly addictive substances, with reports of physicians and others who have easy access to them becoming addicted stretching back well into the 19th Century. That access has, over the past twenty years, become far greater in no small part due to the popularization of OxyContin and its maker, Purdue Pharma. The Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company has repeatedly faced accusations that its products and its push to make prescription opioid drugs the first choice to treat virtually any type of pain, regardless of severity, the norm in the United States. The company went to great lengths to ease access restrictions to their products and, in 2007, pleaded guilty to purposely misleading the public about the addictive nature of OxyContin, agreeing to pay $600 million in one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in history (Lindsay, 2007). Since that time, states and cities have sued Purdue Pharma, alleging that the company put profits over citizens’ welfare (AP, 2015 & Ryan, 2017).

The recent data obtained by the AP are just another example of how addiction to prescription opioid drugs can lead otherwise upstanding and respectable members of society – those in whose hands we, as citizens, place our very lives and wellbeing – to commit felony theft in order to either satisfy their addictions or to make money off of selling these drugs to other addicts. Other relatively recent examples of opioid theft and addiction in hospitals have led to highly publicized (and costly) outbreaks of Hepatitis C in patients who were not habitual drug users, but patients under hospital care, and yet, despite the clear need to make substantive changes to our nation’s prescription opioid policies, there seems little political will to do so.

Pain advocacy groups (sometimes funded by drug manufacturers) and pharmaceutical companies have repeatedly put undue pressure on state and Federal lawmakers whenever the specter of restrictions or regulations that might restrict or reduce access to prescription opioids makes its way into statehouses. Reports have frequently been made where lawmakers have been approached, bribed, or extorted in order to block or vote against these legislative measures, even if they merely serve as Harm Reduction, rather than outright restrictions. Worse, much of the literature used in prescriber and physician education courses is written by these companies, who go to great lengths to downplay the high risks of addiction by placing the onus not upon the prescribers, physicians, or pharmacists, but upon the patients (i.e. – the patient’s body knows what’s best). The science of opioid drugs, however, contradicts these assertions.

What is frustrating about this issue is that politicians talk a big game about “solving the opioid crisis,” but they appear to be hamstrung as to what to do about the issue. Doctors, nurses, and addiction specialists have frequently presented these lawmakers with detailed, well-reasoned, and affordable plans to combat the crisis, and yet, these legislators seem more concerned about potential threats to their reelection campaigns and coffers than they do about the very real life and death addiction issues facing their constituents. It seems more important to them that Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers continue to support their reelection, than it is important to help save the lives of the people they’re elected to represent.

Theft from veterans is, beyond just a sad commentary on the state of opioid addiction, unconscionable. The men and women in whose debt we all stand for defending our nation’s interests can ill afford for the drugs meant to treat them to go missing, much less for that theft to be perpetrated by those tasked with their care. At some point, lawmakers are going to have to take a stand against pharmaceutical company influence, or simply cede their seat to them, altogether. The time has come for comprehensive reform related to opioid drugs, whether or not that negatively impacts the bottom lines of these companies.

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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Veteran’s Administration $1.5 Billion for HCV to Expand Coverage

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Veterans Administration logo

Photo Source: VA

The Veteran’s Administration (VA) has requested $1.5 billion in the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY2017) budget in order to treat more veterans for Hepatitis C (HCV). This move comes after the announcement in March that the VA would be expanding treatment protocols to include all veterans in its health system with the virus, regardless of age or progression into liver cirrhosis (Kime, 2016). This coverage expansion was covered in the HIV/HCV Co-Infection Watch Report in April, and was recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in the September edition.

With more than $2 billion appropriated for new HCV drugs during the past two years, the VA has treated 65,000 veterans for the virus (Wentling, 2016). One of the primary concerns expressed by veterans’ groups – Disabled Veterans (dot) Org, in particular – has been the rationing of care to only those whose liver fibrosis scores met what they feel are arbitrary measures that focus more on saving money, rather than saving lives. Tom Berge, head of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) health care panel, went so far as to say the following: “When I found out that they were prioritizing the treatments, that’s when I said they were death panels (Krause, 2016).” The “death panels” claim is reminiscent of political arguments against single-payer or Universal healthcare coverage, wherein bureaucrats essentially decide which people would live or die, based on a set of predetermined markers.

The rationing of treatment to the sickest or most financially able to pay is nothing new – public and private insurers and payers, alike, have utilized these formulae and markers in an effort to reduce costs while still maintaining the visage that they “cover” drugs, even if actual utilization on the part of patients is low. With HCV drugs, in particular, many Medicaid and ADAP programs have indicated in their respective Preferred Drug Lists (PDLs) and formularies that they cover the new Direct Acting Agents (DAAs) that are currently considered to be the Standard of Care (SOC) for HCV, only to have the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) release a guidance in November 2015 reminding Medicaid programs that “cost” was not an acceptable reason to deny coverage. Certain states – Arizona, for example – openly stated that they would not be following said guidance.

The VA currently estimates that 107,000 vets have undiagnosed or untreated HCV (Wentling, 2016), with Vietnam War-era veterans born between 1945 and 1965 being one of the demographics most likely to have been infected, as this generation (generally referred to as “Baby Boomers”) may have been the recipients of blood transfusions and organ transplants prior to the discovery and screening of blood for HCV. It wasn’t until 1992 that widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States.

While this demographic is a target for HCV screening, most new HCV infections occur as a result of sharing syringes or other equipment to inject drugs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Veterans are particularly susceptible to prescription opioid and heroin addiction. According to VA officials, roughly 60% of those returning from deployments from current engagements in the Middle East and 50% of older veterans suffer from chronic pain. That’s compared to about 30% of Americans, nationwide. Additionally, veterans are twice as likely to die of accidental opioid overdoses than non-veterans. Prescriptions for opioid drugs rose by 270% over a twelve-year period by 2013 (Childress, 2016). This places veterans at particular risk of contracting HCV as a result of Injection Drug Use (IDU).

Though the cost of treating HCV are currently astronomical, on a national scale, the VA does benefit from a requirement that drug manufacturers provide the system with the “best price,” though those discounts are currently shielded by Trade Secrets laws that specifically forbid programs from publicizing any deals, discounted prices, or pricing arrangements struck between pharmaceutical companies and payer programs. But, we have asked of our veterans that they make sacrifices to ensure our continued freedom and safety; is any price too high to ensure their continued health and wellbeing if and when they return from battle? I think not.
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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.

 

References:

 

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