By David Eugene Archer Sr.
Journalism Guild Writer
Only a few states and the federal government have increased spending on a new generation of drugs to treat hepatitis C, reports The Marshall Project.
An estimated 3.5 million people in the U.S. are infected with hepatitis C, and a third of them pass through prisons and jails every year, according to the Feb. 26 report.
For doctors and public health experts, this is an opportunity to wipe out the virus in prisons and possibly lower infection rates nationwide, the report notes. It says prisons see sticker shock: the new drugs cost as much as $1,000 a day.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the corrections department to prioritize the treatment of hepatitis C, said Morris Peters, a spokesman for the governor. He also said, “Testing and treatment will lead to better public health outcomes, saving taxpayer dollars in the long term.”
Left untreated, experts say hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease and liver cancer. A new generation of treatments called direct-acting agents, or DAAs, can cure hepatitis C more than 95 percent of the time in 12 to 24 weeks, according to the project’s report.
Research suggests that aggressive testing and treatment in prisons found that cure rates among patients were higher than among similar populations on the outside, the report stated.
Gilead inaugurated the newest generation of DAAs in December 2013 by pricing Sovaldi at $1,000 per pill, the report says.
Harish Moorjani, infectious disease doctor who treats hepatitis C in New York state prisons, said, “That is a very hard sell for administrators…this has to be governor-driven.”
The report lists increase spending on hepatitis C in prisons by the following states and federal government in 2015:
California spent $57.6 million, a 453.8 percent increase.
New York spent $25 million, a 166 percent increase.
Federal government spent $13.7 million, a 128.7 percent increase.
The federal system treated 200 prisoners with DAAs, while California, under federal receivership, has treated upward of 900, said the report.
New DAAs are entering the market all the time. The newest, Zepatier, was approved in January. Merck, its manufacturer, priced it at $54,600, almost half the competition’s price, according to the report.