Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Hep C Drugs Promise A Cure, For A Big Price

A new series from Rhode Island Public Radio

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. Since then, people with hepatitis C have had limited – and not very effective – options for treatment.

Until now.

Revolutionary new treatments have hit the market in just the last few months. But they’re so expensive health insurers are balking at the price.

Part four of our series “At the Crossroads: The Rise of Hepatitis C and the Fight to Stop it” looks at the high cost of these new treatments and who’s paying for them.

Program Updated Nov 12
In just a few weeks, another pharmaceutical company will likely win FDA approval for a new drug to cure hepatitis C. That makes three breakthrough medications hitting the market in less than a year. It’s big news for the estimated twenty thousand Rhode Islanders – and many more throughout New England - living with chronic hepatitis C. Because some have been waiting decades for a cure.

Program Update Nov 3
That’s what has happened with hepatitis C. This virus slowly attacks the liver. It’s often 20 years or more before someone who’s infected notices anything wrong. Meanwhile, the infection scars the liver. And that could lead to cirrhosis or even liver cancer. Most of the estimated five million Americans who have chronic hepatitis C are somewhere on this spectrum of sickness right now.

October 29
New Hepatitis C Drugs May Push State Over Budget
By Kristin Gourlay
Providing medical assistance to low income Rhode Islanders will cost the state more than projected. One of the major factors behind the increase is the cost of two new drugs. 

October 24
Opioid Addiction Crisis Fuels Another: Hep C
By Kristin Gourlay
Addiction usually leaves a wake of chaos, and all kinds of casualties - marriages, jobs, health. Most tragically, the current crisis of opioid addiction (to prescription painkillers and heroin) in Rhode Island has cost too many lives. Well over 160 Rhode Islanders have died from accidental opioid overdoses so far this year. Hundreds more might have joined them had it not been for the rescue drug naloxone.

At The Crossroads, Part 1: A Tale Of Two Epidemics
This very moment, we’re standing at a crossroads. A place where two epidemics are about to meet. And what happens next is critical.

“The success we have over the next five to ten years is going to depend on what we do over the next one to two years.”

Meet Dr. John Ward. He oversees all things hepatitis C at the centers for disease control and prevention. And what he sees at this crossroads is a crisis.

“One, we have an epidemic of hepatitis c mortality. We have an increasing number of people dying from hepatitis c among the baby boom population who were infected decades ago.”

About the series:
Hepatitis C infects an estimated five million Americans, though most of them don’t know it. But deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise in baby boomers. And throughout New England, new infections are creeping up among a younger generation. Less than a year ago, their only options for treatment were complicated regimens of injections that didn’t always lead to a cure. But brand new drugs could change everything. That is, if the cost doesn’t break us.

This series was produced by Kristin Gourlay, and edited by Catherine Welch, as a project for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Support for health care reporting on Rhode Island Public Radio also comes from the Rhode Island Foundation, Rhode Island's only community foundation.

Jake Harper produced the infographics for "At the Crossroads."

Updated November 20, 2014
Reducing the cost of new hepatitis C drugs
Daclatasvir, Harvoni (ledipasvir/sofosbuvir) and Sovaldi.
An index of articles & research weighing the pros and cons over the high price of hepatitis C drugs.
The situation has Medicaid plans and insurers nationwide groping for the right balance. Worldwide patients are unable to afford treatment, while others wait in the wings on coverage... 

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