Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: HCV

Awareness and Assistance Are Crucial to Fighting Hepatitis C

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, a time when the healthcare and patient advocacy communities rally support for the millions of Americans afflicted with the disease, including an estimated 3.2 million suffering from chronic Hepatitis C (also known as HCV).

HepatitisAwarenessMonthOver time, chronic Hepatitis C can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. In fact, Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and is the number one cause of liver transplants.

While millions live with Hepatitis C, many don’t even know they are infected. This “hidden epidemic” can strike just about anyone, but those born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to have the disease than those in other age groups. That’s why the CDC has issued a recommendation for all Americans born during that time to get a blood test for the disease.

In addition to the baby boomer generation, others may be at high risk for HCV infection, including those who:

  • Use injection drugs
  • Used unsterile equipment for tattoos or body piercings
  • Came in contact with infected blood or needles
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
  • Received a blood product for clotting problems made before 1987
  • Needed blood filtered by a machine (hemodialysis) for a long period of time due to kidney failure
  • Were born to a mother with HCV
  • Had unprotected sex with multiple partners
  • Have or had a sexually transmitted disease
  • Have HIV

For people at risk, knowing they have Hepatitis C can help them make important decisions about their healthcare. Successful treatments can eliminate the virus from the body and prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. But sometimes, the cost of those treatments are out of reach, even for those with medical insurance.

Financial Relief Available

The HealthWell Foundation’s new Hepatitis C Fund is bringing financial relief to underinsured people living with the disease. Through the fund, HealthWell will provide copayment assistance up to $15,000 for HCV treatment to eligible patients who are insured and have annual household incomes up to 500 percent of the federal poverty level. To determine eligibility and apply for assistance, or learn how to support this program, visit http://bit.ly/HepC2015.

“The new generation of hepatitis C treatments has brought excitement to patients who have been hoping for a breakthrough,” said Krista Zodet, HealthWell Foundation President. “Through the generosity of our donors, our Hepatitis C Fund is able to help more people receive these treatments while minimizing the worry over financial stress.”

Because many HCV infections are identified only after the patient becomes symptomatic, community health centers are extremely important for getting patients into care. BOOM!Health is a community service organization located in the Bronx, New York, the epicenter of the Hepatitis C epidemic in New York City. It offers a variety of services to those living with HCV infections, including a fully staffed health center, pharmacy services, case management, nutrition education, counseling, pantry services, syringe exchange, behavioral care, and more.

“People living with HCV continue to face serious challenges, such as stigma and lack of access to treatment,” said Robert Cordero, President and Chief Program Officer, BOOM!Health, a community health center based in the Bronx that supports individuals on their journey towards health, wellness and self-sufficiency. “Non-profits that provide funding assistance like HealthWell fill a gap that we’ve watched grow.”

“Nearly 3.2 million people in the United States and about 150 million people worldwide are chronically infected with HCV,” said Tom Nealon, Esq., National Board Chair of the American Liver Foundation, a national patient advocacy organization that promotes education, support and research for the prevention, treatment and cure of liver disease. “The HealthWell Foundation and other independent copay charities play a vital role in seeing that those who are insured but can’t afford their medication copay are able to access and stay on treatment.”

If you or someone you know is living with Hepatitis C, emotional, physical and financial support are critical. What organizations and programs are you turning to for help? Let us know in the comments.

Targeted Therapies Open Door to Improved Outcomes and Lower Costs to Treat HCV

As we were reminded on World Hepatitis Day, early detection is critical to turning the tide of this “silent epidemic” that impacts millions. However, strategies to end the deadly effects of viral hepatitis don’t stop there. Personalized treatment is another essential tool that fuels better outcomes for patients with hepatitis C (HCV) while saving money in the long term for the health care system too. 

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

The importance of finding effective therapies for HCV is underscored by the reality that the disease often goes undetected, with an estimated 80 percent of Americans with HCV unaware of their status. Many HCV-positive people show mild to no symptoms, making it more likely for the illness to progress and become more expensive to treat as a result. 

Although safe and effective vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, none exist for HCV. To help answer this need, Abbott created the fully automated RealTime HCV Genotype II Test – the first FDA-approved genotyping test in the United States for HCV patients – to facilitate targeted diagnosis and treatment that boosts desired outcomes.

This treatment-defining genotyping test empowers physicians to better pinpoint specific strains of HCV, determine which treatment option is best for the patient, and make more informed recommendations about when it should be administered. Available to individuals with chronic HCV, the test is not meant to act as a means to screen the blood prior to diagnosis.

So how does finding the right HCV treatment save money?

Targeted therapies like these are important for diseases like HCV because they reduce the “trial and error” of having to use additional treatments when the initial ones don’t work, saving money and time for patients and providers. Early detection, combined with follow-up care, can prevent patients from developing later stages of hepatitis that can mean more serious long-term conditions that are harder and more expensive to treat.

Treating HCV patients with end-stage liver disease, for example, is 2.5 times higher than treating those with early stage liver disease. Advanced HCV can also escalate to chronic hepatitis infection, a side effect of this being cirrhosis (scarring of the liver and poor liver function) and liver cancer. Treatment for these two conditions (which can include a liver transplant) can cost more than $30,000. Liver cancer treatment can be more than $62,000 for the first year, while the first-year cost of a liver transplant can be more than $267,000.

As more and more patients find themselves unable to afford treatments, HCV is becoming an increasingly larger financial burden on the health care system.

The annual costs of treating HCV in the United States could be up to $9 billion, and over the course of a lifetime the collective cost associated with treatments for chronic HCV is estimated to total $360 billion.

“As we see patients with more advanced liver disease, we see significantly more costs to the system,” says Dr. Stuart Gordon, author of the Henry Ford Study. “The key, therefore, is to treat and cure the infection early to prevent the consequences of more advanced disease and the associated economic burden.”  

Targeted therapies show great promise to improve outcomes while saving time and money by linking patients to the specific treatments they need at earlier points of diagnosis. But what can health systems do to make innovations like the HCV Genotype II Test accessible to more patients and increase the cost-savings benefit on a larger scale?