Letter: Medication access is important

Hepatitis C is a life-threatening chronic disease that affects an estimated 3.2 million Americans, including about 60,000 people in Colorado. Previous treatments for the disease had significant side effects, caused patients to feel sick constantly and had a low success rate. But recent medical breakthroughs have resulted in new oral medications that can cure more than 90 percent of patients in about three months with few adverse side effects.

However, a new report from the Center for Improving Value in Health Care finds that the vast majority of Coloradans with hepatitis C are not receiving treatment through their insurance plans. The report concludes that only 11 percent of hepatitis C patients in the state have obtained prescription drugs to treat their condition through commercial or federal insurance programs. (The study does not include patients who pay out of pocket for these drugs or receive them through a financial assistance program directly from the manufacturer.)

This finding is particularly concerning because hepatitis C, if left untreated, can lead to even more serious liver diseases including cirrhosis and liver cancer. In fact, chronic hepatitis C is the No. 1 reason for receiving a liver transplant, which can cost over $500,000 and require years of costly, intensive follow-up care. Therefore it is vitally important for people to get tested for hepatitis C and seek treatment as soon as possible as symptoms often do not present until there is significant damage to the liver.

These new hepatitis C drugs give patients hope for a disease-free life in a matter of weeks without intolerable side effects. Unfortunately, some insurance companies are essentially restricting coverage for these medicines by requiring very expensive patient copays. This study highlights the need to ensure that chronic patients can access these highly effective treatments through their insurance without encountering high copays or other obstacles.

Nancy A. Steinfurth

Executive director of Liver Health Connection