Louisiana’s Journey Toward Eliminating Hepatitis C

By Rebekah Gee: For More Info, Go Here…

Hepatitis C is the leading infectious disease killer of our time, but it is also one of the few viruses that has a cure—direct-acting antiviral medications. Several years ago, Louisiana set out to eliminate the disease to reduce preventable suffering and premature death. Our journey to achieve that goal has been a circuitous one, made more challenging because Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the nation and has a disproportionally infected population. Now, we are one major step closer to achieving our goal, having received offers from the manufacturers of the costly hepatitis C medications seeking to partner with the state in a bold new approach to drug purchasing.

Costly Hepatitis C Medications Out Of State’s Reach

Around the beginning of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration, the Louisiana Department of Health, which I lead, received letters from both the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and health care advocates demanding that hepatitis C medications be made more widely available to Medicaid patients. Looking at the data, I realized that CMS and the advocates were right—our disease registry indicated that 90,000 people in Louisiana had the hepatitis C virus, and we were treating a small fraction of those who were infected and enrolled in Medicaid.

Providing broad access to the medications that cure hepatitis C is a critical public health imperative but has not been possible in Louisiana because of the high cost of the drugs that can cure this deadly infection. Our administration inherited a budget deficit of more than $2 billion, and spending the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to treat our vulnerable populations with hepatitis C was out of reach.

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