Policymakers Increase Efforts to Eliminate Hepatitis C

This year’s World Hepatitis Day brought big news for patients.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will become the first to attempt eliminating hepatitis C.  With an initial budget of $5 million, the state will launch a multifaceted initiative, including a public awareness campaign about the disease.  Under the guidance of a newly formed task force, New York will also expand prevention and testing efforts. The approach emulates the state’s ongoing work to end HIV/AIDs, the governor explained in a press release.

The state also seeks to improve access to curative treatment.  “Prior authorization should never result in a disruption of treatment,” the governor’s release noted.  In addition to reducing access barriers like prior authorization, the state seeks to aid vulnerable populations, such as state inmates.

New Yorkers aren’t the only ones getting serious about hepatitis C elimination.  Across the globe in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, World Hepatitis Day events highlighted the success of other efforts to end the disease.  The region has increased testing and treatment for hepatitis C, offering a model for like-minded nations.  

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization issued new treatment guidelines.  An update to the 2016 guidelines, this version embraces a broad approach, suggesting curative treatment for all people with chronic hepatitis C, regardless of disease state.  (Pregnant women are exempt.) Notably, the guidelines suggest treating infected adolescents age 12 and up, marking a new emphasis on younger patients.

Direct-acting antivirals, which provide about a 90 percent cure rate, can prevent cirrhosis and liver cancer, reducing the number of liver transplants needed, and minimizing disease transmission.  The initial list price of the drugs gave many insurers and health systems sticker shock, though market forces continue to drive down the price.

In response, and often in the face of legal action, several U.S. states have loosened their restrictions on access.  Yet many others, such as Illinois and Texas, continue to allow only the sickest patients to cure their hepatitis C.

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