There is now more than one Hepatitis C cure, but they are costly.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is caused by a virus in the blood called HCV (Hepatitis C virus). It causes liver infection. Hepatitis C is transmitted by injection, such as sharing needles. For a few of the patients with HCV, the illness is not long lasting, but for the vast majority, it becomes a chronic infection that can lead to death. There is no vaccine.1 There is the possibility, though, that hepatitis C can be “cured”. A patient is said to be cured if the virus is no longer in the blood six months after the medication is stopped. In the 1990s, interferon was the drug of choice used to treat hepatitis C. It worked by boosting the body’s immune system. Ribavirin was another medication introduced to fight the virus, and patients taking a combination of the two medications had about a 50% cure rate in the 2000s. There were, however, side effects that were troublesome, including anxiety, trouble sleeping, nausea, muscle aches, and fever. In addition, it could take as many as 48 weeks to see some results of the medications. In 2011, boceprevir and telaprevir were introduced, and they could “stop the virus from making a copy of itself”. When these medications were combined with interferon and ribavirin, the cure rate was 70%, but the side effects of adding the third medications increased greatly.2
New Hepatitis C Cure Medications
Three new medications were recently FDA-approved: Olysio, Sovaldi, and Harvoni. By taking Olysio with ribavirin and interferon, there is an 80% cure rate. Harvoni does not need to be taken with the other medications, and Sovaldi can be used by some patients without the interferon. Sovaldi has a 90% cure rate in as little as 12 weeks. These medications are expensive.3 Sovaldi had cost about $1000 per pill, and Harvoni had a price of $1350 per pill; therefore “newfound choice doesn’t seem to have led to widespread price competition”. A new medication, Viekira Pak, is “an equally effective cure and priced lower”. Unlike the other medications, it requires 4 pills per day instead of 1, and it may also require an additional antiviral drug. As expensive as the medications are, however, a liver transplant would cost between $550,000 and $600,000. Left untreated, hepatitis C is a public health hazard, because it can be transmitted by infected blood and sometimes sex.4 Cost and access to care are the roadblocks to treating hepatitis C, now that these new medications have put the cure within reach.5 Some options to make the treatment affordable include waiting for the prices to go down, asking the doctor about any programs for payment assistance, using a pharmacy discount program, asking for a doctor’s assistance in negotiating with the insurance company so that the plan will cover the treatment, applying for financial assistance through the drug manufacturer, or contacting the Patient Access Network Foundation (a nonprofit group that helps people pay for hepatitis C treatments). It is important to only start the treatment if it can be completed, as partial treatment could lead to viral resistance and relapse.6
Learn more about hepatitis types.