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Breaking Barriers: Hepatitis C Cure Inaccessible to Majority of Patients due to Financial Constraints

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The High Cost of Hepatitis C Treatments Prevents Majority of Americans from Being Cured

The Silent Killer

The silent killer – hepatitis C – is infecting a vast number of people in the United States, with the majority remaining uncured. While the initial infection may have minimal symptoms, overtime, the virus can lead to serious liver damage, including cancer and failure. Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with infected blood, often as a result of sharing needles and drug paraphernalia.

Breakthrough Oral Antiviral Treatments

Fortunately, there have been breakthroughs in oral antiviral treatments that can cure more than 95% of hepatitis C cases. These medications, developed by Gilead Sciences and Abbvie, have been available in the U.S. for nearly a decade. Patients simply need to take a pill once a day for eight to 12 weeks to achieve a cure.

Low Cure Rates

Despite the availability of these medications, the cure rates remain disappointingly low. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only one-third of the 1 million adults who tested positive for hepatitis C between 2013 and 2022 have been cured. It is estimated that there are potentially another million undiagnosed cases in the country.

The Devastating Impact

Hepatitis C continues to have a devastating impact, contributing to nearly 15,000 deaths in 2020 alone. The situation is dire, with thousands of lives lost each year from an infection that has had a cure for over a decade.

Barriers to Treatment

The primary obstacles preventing broader access to treatment involve insurance requirements and the high cost of the medications. The course of treatment can be priced as high as $24,000 per patient, making it unaffordable for many. Additionally, health insurance plans often impose extensive preauthorization procedures and restrict the number of providers who can prescribe the medications.

The Medicaid Challenge

Even state Medicaid plans, which aim to provide healthcare to low-income individuals, have their own set of requirements that make it difficult for all infected individuals to be treated. These requirements include evidence of liver disease, sobriety, and specialist involvement. The exorbitant costs of the drugs further exacerbate the challenges faced by Medicaid programs.

The Biden Administration's Proposal

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the Biden administration has proposed an $11 billion funding program to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030. The plan involves the federal government paying pharmaceutical companies a lump sum for the drugs, which will then be made available for free to the uninsured, state Medicaid programs, prison systems, and Native American reservations. This socialist model is based on the successful program implemented by Louisiana in 2019.

Faster Diagnosis and Treatment

In addition to the funding program, efforts are being made to improve diagnosis and treatment. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are collaborating on the approval of a rapid hepatitis C test that can provide a diagnosis within an hour. This would allow patients to receive a diagnosis and start treatment in a single visit, improving access and outcomes.

The Impact on New Businesses

An Urgent Issue with Implications for New Businesses

The high cost of hepatitis C treatments and the barriers to access have far-reaching consequences, not only for public health but also for new businesses. As the epidemic continues to affect a significant portion of the American population, it poses challenges and potential risks for entrepreneurs and startups, particularly in the healthcare sector.

Financial Strain on Small Businesses

The exorbitant prices of hepatitis C medications, coupled with insurance requirements, place a heavy financial burden on individuals and businesses alike. For small businesses that may not have extensive resources or comprehensive insurance coverage, the cost of providing adequate healthcare benefits to employees can be staggering. This can hinder their ability to attract and retain talent, impacting their growth and viability.

Reduced Productivity and Absenteeism

Hepatitis C can cause significant health issues, including liver damage and cancer, leading to reduced productivity and increased absenteeism among employees. This can have a detrimental effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of new businesses, hindering their ability to meet goals and deliver quality products or services.

Impact on Healthcare Innovation

The limited accessibility to hepatitis C treatments also affects the overall landscape of healthcare innovation. With a significant portion of the population remaining uncured and undiagnosed, there is a missed opportunity for entrepreneurs and researchers to focus on developing new solutions and technologies to combat the disease. This hampers progress in the field and stifles potential breakthroughs that could benefit both patients and businesses.

The Biden Administration's Proposal as a Positive Step

The recent proposal by the Biden administration to allocate $11 billion towards eliminating hepatitis C by 2030 is a positive step forward. If implemented successfully, this funding program could improve access to treatments, reduce financial barriers, and create an environment more conducive to entrepreneurship and business growth in the healthcare sector. It may also encourage innovation and foster new partnerships between pharmaceutical companies and emerging businesses.

The Importance of Collaboration and Faster Diagnosis

Efforts to improve diagnosis and treatment, such as the collaboration between the NIH and FDA on a rapid hepatitis C test, are crucial for addressing the challenges faced by new businesses. Rapid diagnosis would enable early intervention and treatment initiation, reducing the long-term impact of the disease on individuals and minimizing its effects on workforce productivity.

A Call for Further Action

While the proposed funding program and advancements in diagnostics are promising, continued collaboration between government, healthcare institutions, and the private sector is essential to tackle the high cost and barriers associated with hepatitis C treatments. By prioritizing public health and supporting innovative approaches, new businesses can thrive while contributing to the fight against this silent killer.

Article First Published at: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/06/29/hepatitis-c-cure-isnt-reaching-patients-due-to-cost-cdc-says.html

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