State working to eliminate Hepatitis C as public health problem

GF Default - Hepatitis-C cases increase as drug prices soar; doctors urge all to get tested
GF Default - Hepatitis-C cases increase as drug prices soar; doctors urge all to get tested
Updated: Sep. 5, 2018 at 5:54 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Louisiana Department of Health says new rates of Hepatitis C infection are growing dramatically nationwide because of the opioid epidemic. But the state is now looking into a way to eliminate the virus as a public health problem.

The state says about 30,000 people in Louisiana’s Medicaid program and prison system have the virus, but the price of life-saving drugs prevents the health department from providing a cure to more of them.

“We’re focused on corrections because 90 percent of people get out of jail and we want them to lead healthy lives and not infect other people when they get out,” said Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee.

Now, the Louisiana Department of Health is looking into a payment model that the state says would dramatically expand access to the drugs.

“The idea is to take what we spend on corrections and for Medicaid, pool that into one lump sum and give it to a company or companies, and for that sum we’re able to get as much drug as we can use to cure the disease,” said Gee.

LSU Health infectious diseases physician Dr. Fred Lopez says increased availability to the new, more effective drugs will help minimize complications from the virus.

“It is a life-threatening illness. It’s the infection that causes more deaths in this country than any other. It can cause liver damage, it can cause cirrhosis, it can cause liver cancer. The most common reason for liver transplantation in this country is still chronic Hepatitis C infection,” said Lopez.

Lopez adds the drugs used now to treat the virus don’t come cheap. He says they can cost tens of thousands of dollars for an eight- to 12-week treatment.

“They’re much more effective than the drugs we used to use to treat chronic Hepatitis C infections. Now, 90-95 percent or more of patients can be cured in 8 to 12 weeks with these really more potent and effective Hepatitis C drugs that have become available,” said Lopez.

The Louisiana Department of Health says under the plan the payment made to the chosen drug company would be equal to or less than what the state is currently spending to provide medication to medicaid and corrections patients.

“People who are incarcerated will end up, again 90 percent of them get out, they will end up in some kind of public program, Medicare or they’re a veteran in jail so, if we treat their Hep C now we will save those programs money down the road,” said Gee.

The state would like to see the drug plan up and running by next year. Gee says they will put the project out for bid to find the best pharmaceutical partner.

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