NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Governor John Bel Edwards says a new agreement will put the state in position to wipe out hepatitis C infection, after a deal inked between the Louisiana Department of Health and a private company was sealed to allow the state to purchase unlimited amounts of a generic drug for the prescription medication Epclusa.
Edwards made the announcement before a room packed with medical professionals and healthcare policy experts in New Orleans Wednesday (June 26).
"This deal is done,” Edwards said.
The drugs the state is purchasing will be used to treat thousands who are recipients of Medicaid health benefits, as well as people in Louisiana prisons.
Edwards said he is confident the drug provider will be able to meet the state’s needs.
“Because it’s not predicated upon treating a certain number of individuals. It is an unlimited supply based upon our need for a set price, and so we are confident. Now, as with every new program, we’re going to see that there’s some wrinkles that have to be ironed out, but this is a five-year plan,” he said.
The Lousiana Department of Corrections, which oversees state prisons, said the approach is designed to benefit the broader community when the incarcerated are released back into society, according to the department’s secretary, Jim LeBlanc.
"Ninety-five percent of the people that come into our department are returning home, and one important element of this is health care,” LeBlanc said.
Edwards said high drug costs have previously prevented the state from treating everyone with the illness.
"We estimate that over 39,000 Louisianians in both Medicaid and Corrections have this illness, but we were only able to treat a little over 1,100 people in 2018, so that’s about 3 percent,” Edwards said.
The state’s health chief, Dr. Rebekah Gee, said as a result, many people have gone without critical treatment.
"There are thousands of people who have been waiting for this treatment, many for a number of years, because currently we have to wait until they have internal bleeding or cirrhosis or liver hardening before we cure. So now, we’re going to be able to cure everyone in this state with this disease,” Gee said.
The state said the agreement to purchase large amounts of the medication was approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the process was competitive.
"We put out a request or a solicitation for offers, all three companies that make this drug responded, but we felt our best partner was Asegua Therapeutics,” Gee said.
She said the new payment model will keep spending in line with what the state has doled out for a limited supply of hepatitis C drugs.
"Last year it was in the $50 million range,” Gee said.
Doctor Nicholas Van Sickels, who treats patients with hepatitis C said he is excited about what the change will mean to health care.
"I can’t tell you what it means for us as providers, for us as health care systems and community clinics, to be able to tell people they can be cured,” Van Sickels said.
Still, Gee is urging more people to get tested.
“There should be no stigma, this is curable problem. It's fixable, one pill a day for 12 weeks,” she said.
The new initiative begins July 15.