There is hope for the 3.5 million people living with Hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the United States. Therapies approved in recent years can eliminate the virus in 96 to 99 percent of patients, according to Harvard Law’s article “The Price of Life.”
So why is there is still such a high number of people infected with this disease? Ask the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA) whom Harvard Law’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation clinic (CHLPI) filed a class-action lawsuit against this February.
“In Washington State, and in many other states, the Medicaid provider has been refusing to cover the drug for people before they develop significant liver scarring…liver scarring would be rampant and the patient would likely have cirrhosis. In effect, rather than heading off the disease before it could do damage, HCA has been requiring those who want the cure to first become seriously and irrevocably ill.”
In CHLPI’s lawsuit, they claim that access to this life-saving drug is being restricted from vulnerable and at-risk populations, including low-income groups and people of color. While patients live with HCV waiting for coverage for their cure, they face a reality of encountering other potentially fatal diseases as a result of HCV. Keep in mind, the most difficult to treat HCV genotype 1 could be cured with an eight-week program.
“We have a cure for HCV,” says Kelly Jo Popkin ’17, a student in the Harvard Law clinic. “Refusing to provide that cure until patients’ livers are completely ravaged runs the risk of increasing transmissions in the state. In addition, the HCA is forcing those living with Hepatitis C to live with increasing symptoms and comorbidities they wouldn’t normally have. That ranges from joint pain and depression to really horrific side effects such as diabetes, lymphoma, cancer, and death. All of that could be completely avoided.”
In the words of David Morton, a HCV patient who was denied coverage by his insurer, Group Health Cooperative, “people die from complications of Hepatitis C…while I can’t stop death, I can prevent death from Hep C…rejoin the workforce and become a contributing member of society.”
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