All Veterans Can Now Receive Newly Approved Specialty Drug for Hepatitis C
The exorbitant cost of drugs to treat hepatitis C has been discussed in Congress and made the news. Although these new specialty medications provide the promise of a cure for the afflicted, some of whom have liver disease as a result of the virus, the exorbitant cost has been prohibitive for payers. Therefore, most payers have restricted coverage only to those whose livers are damaged or to those who have tried other therapies without success.
The good news is that the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), the “largest single provider of hepatitis C care in the U.S.,”1 announced on March 9, 2016, that it will now provide hepatitis c treatment to all veterans.2 This is possible because of increased funding from Congress and a newly approved drug that is more affordable than those that have made the news in recent months.3
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According to Military Times, the VA has adopted the new drug Zepatier, made by Merck. The company’s executives stated that they “priced the medication to broaden and accelerate access to treatment for patients covered in commercial or public plans, including our country’s veterans.”3 As a result, Zepatier is significantly cheaper than what the VA was providing to veterans previously, and veterans can now receive hepatitis C treatment through their local VA facility. They can also continue to receive treatment through the Choice Program.
The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) stated this week that they have “treated over 76,000 veterans infected with hepatitis C and approximately 60,000 have been cured.”2 Although this sounds like a large number, it is estimated that “200,000 veterans have hepatitis c, including 174,000 veterans that are enrolled in the VA health system.”3
The large unmet need was due to the inflated prices of drugs such as Sovaldi and Harvoni. Although the VA had negotiated a discounted price with Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer, the medication still added up to “$68,000 for a treatment regimen that costs about $1,400 to make.”3 These prices forced the VA to prioritize care and restrict treatment to patients whose conditions were most advanced.
I wonder how many sick veterans were denied care because the VA couldn’t afford to treat the entire population. Now, with the release of a more affordable option from Merck, that problem appears to be solved. In addition, competition from Merck could pressure Gilead to lower its prices, which would be good news for everyone who has hepatitis C.