Wednesday, April 22, 2015

State panel OKs more hepatitis-C drug buys

State panel OKs more hepatitis-C drug buys 
This article was published today at 3:22 a.m.

More teachers and state employees with hepatitis-C will be eligible for treatment with expensive drugs under changes adopted by a state board on Tuesday.

The changes approved by the State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Board broadened criteria for the treatment that the board set just over a month ago for coverage of the drugs, which can cost more than $86,000 for a 12-week course of treatment.

The changes will also allow most patients who meet the criteria to take a drug regimen that does not involve injections of interferon, which can cause flulike side effects.

The changes were recommended by the board's Drug Utilization and Evaluation Committee on April 6 after Jill Johnson, an associate pharmacy professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, met with Andres Duarte-Rojo, director of UAMS' Viral Hepatitis Clinic, to get his opinion on the policy adopted by the board in March.

Johnson advises the board as part of the UAMS College of Pharmacy's Evidence-Based Prescription Drug Program.

"This is better," board member Andrew Kumpuris, a Little Rock cardiologist, said at the meeting Tuesday. "It's more balanced."

But Kumpuris said he was concerned that the policy would exclude from coverage those who previously started treatment but didn't finish it, unless the failure to finish the treatment was because of a patient's inability to tolerate a certain drug.
"You're putting somebody in a very difficult position to make that determination" on whether a patient who didn't finish an initial course of treatment would be eligible for a second course, Kumpuris said.

Duarte-Rojo, reached by phone after the meeting, said the changes made the coverage policy better, although not ideal.

"The ideal is that if you are a good candidate for having anti-viral therapy, and you want anti-viral therapy, you should be treated," he said.

The changes affect plans covering about 147,000 people, including 45,000 school employees, 28,000 state employees and retirees and family members of employees and retirees.
The cost of hepatitis-C drugs concerns insurers because more than 3 million people nationwide, including about 38,000 in Arkansas, are estimated to be infected with the disease. 

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