A STAT INVESTIGATION With a promising new plan to pay for pricey cures, two states set out to eliminate hepatitis C. But cost hasn’t been the biggest problem
By Nicholas Florko Sept. 13, 2022
WASHINGTON — For nearly a decade, many experts assumed the biggest obstacle to eliminating hepatitis C was the sky-high cost of the new cures.
So when Washington state and Louisiana signed flashy, unprecedented deals with the pharmaceutical companies that make the medicines back in 2019, and dedicated personnel and money toward the lofty goal, many celebrated. Just last week, the White House held the states up as a potential model for a forthcoming multibillion-dollar national effort with the same aim.
But those states are nowhere near achieving the overarching goals they set, a new STAT investigation reveals. In Washington, the rate of treatment for the state’s Medicaid program now is actually lower than it was before the initiative began.
The rocky roads in each state underscore that eliminating hepatitis C will likely be far more difficult than it seems, as STAT’s interviews with more than two dozen experts, including current and formerly incarcerated people, drug industry officials, the intellectual architects of the Washington and Louisiana deals, and a U.S. senator show.
Though we have now had a miracle cure for the condition for nearly a decade — and though its cost is falling — there are more intractable problems than mere access. The condition often affects people who don’t see doctors regularly and might miss the infection, or who don’t even have a safe place to store medication. Big goals and a stockpile of pills, experts told STAT, aren’t enough.
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