In the past, if someone tested positive for the hepatitis C virus (HCV), a chronic liver infection, the only real treatment was interferon-based medications, which had lower success rates than the latest treatments, especially among people of color, and harsh side effects.
But with treatment progressing over time, a cure for HCV is now a reality.
Thanks to therapies such as Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), Olysio (simeprevir), Harvoni (a combination of ledipasvir and sofosbuvir) and Viekira Pak (also a combination therapy, consisting of ombitasvir-paritaprevir-ritonavir and dasabuvir), HCV has a cure rate of 95-100 percent. Even better: New data have confirmed that treatments have the same success rates among people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
But for the 3 million to 5 million people estimated to be living with HCV, the cure seems bittersweet: The treatment alone can cost $1,000 per pill, with a total of $100,000 for the entire 12- to 14-week regimen. Even with health insurance, the cost of treatment and copays can make the drug almost inaccessible.
“It’s actually unconscionable that we have this cure and millions globally can’t afford it,” says Kenyon Farrow, the U.S. and global health policy director for the Treatment Action Group. “And while in other countries the pharmaceutical companies are in negotiations to make the drugs more affordable, here in the U.S. we don’t have a national office that does that, which allows for companies to charge what they want.”
But don’t let this discourage you, because you do have options.
For starters, depending on the progression of your disease, you may want to talk to your doctor about delaying treatment, in hopes that more-affordable treatment will come down the pipeline in the next year or so, as some expect. But that could be a gamble with your health if you need treatment and lower-cost meds don’t materialize. You can also try negotiating directly with your health insurance company to see what it covers and how much it will cover.
In addition, you can utilize the following:
Financial-assistance programs: These can help offset the high costs of HCV treatment for those living with the disease. Depending on your income and/or insurance status, these programs may pay a portion of your prescription and other-related fees, such as your copay, or pay the entire cost, making the treatment free—but only for those who apply and qualify for assistance. These programs may be funded by foundations or pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead.
“They can definitely help those who need it, but it still requires extra steps such as doing online research and filling out what can be confusing forms. Steps that aren’t as easy as just getting a prescription from your doctor and going straight to the pharmacy,” says Farrow.
These links provide comprehensive sources of programs that can help you:
* The Patient Access Network Foundation, also accessible by phone at 866-316-7263866-316-7263 FREE
Medicaid and Medicare: These government-issued health-care programs for low-income and elderly Americans will also provide access. According to The Washington Post, in 2014 Medicare spent a whopping $4.5 billion on this treatment for those enrolled in its program, 15 times more than it did in 2013 for older, less-expensive treatment. Because of the high cost, both programs are in ration mode, which doesn’t always sit well with activists.
“These programs have rules like, if you are a drug addict or an alcoholic, you won’t get treatment. They are also prioritizing those with more advanced disease above others to see who gets treatment first,” says Farrow.