More than two million Americans are living with Hepatitis C, a virus that can cause cancer, cirrhosis and death if not treated. Because symptoms can take years to develop, many people are not aware they have been infected. This is one of the reasons the disease kills tens of thousands of people each year despite being curable in most cases. Lack of access to primary care physicians often prevents or delays diagnosis. Hepatitis C has an especially large impact on disadvantaged groups such as people who are unhoused, incarcerated or inject drugs. People face obstacles to treatment even after they receive a diagnosis. Only a third of privately insured Americans and a quarter of people on Medicaid receive treatment within a year a diagnosis. Healthcare experts point to several barriers patients encounter when seeking treatment, including denial of payment from insurance companies, multiple office visits and misconceptions of physicians about the medication.
To address this national health problem, the Biden administration a proposed a $5 billion program over 5 years. The initiative would offer Medicare recipients assistance with copayment, promote more robust Hepatitis C screening and support community and mobile clinics. A smaller scale program has shown success in the VA health system. In most cases, the infection can be cured through a 2-3 month regimen of antiviral medication. Wiping out hepatitis C “is an incredibly feasible goal for the nation to achieve,” said Dr. John W. Ward, director of the Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination at the Task Force for Global Health . The program would save the US healthcare system billions of dollars because it would reduce the need for expensive medical care that comes with severe Hepatitis C complications, such as liver failure. A study found that the program would save the Veterans Affairs system $62,000 per patient, netting billions of dollars in total savings. “We have safe and effective therapies. We’ve shown we can do it for thousands of military veterans,” said Dr. Ward. “Now it’s time to do it for the whole country”.
Full Story: Los Angeles Times