As opioid crisis drives demand, Ohio expands who gets hepatitis C treatment

More Ohioans with hepatitis C will be able to get treatment covered by Medicaid under a new policy.

The opioid crisis has led to more hep C cases and driven increased demand for treatment, with shared needles being one of the ways the virus spreads.

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Highly effective but highly expensive drugs to treat hep C hit the market around when the opioid crisis began to drive increased cases of the viral liver disease, and many states rationed access to these pricey medications. Ohio Medicaid relies on a scale of how serious the hep C case is when deciding whether to begin treatment.

Ohio Medicaid announced today that in an effort to mitigate the harm caused by the opioid epidemic, the department is changing policy starting Jan. 1 to begin earlier therapy for people with chronic hep C.

“We have been studying this issue for some time and believe this action is the next appropriate step as part of Ohio’s response to the opioid crisis,” stated Tom Betti, spokesman for Ohio Medicaid.

Hepatitis C drugs are among the most expensive in the U.S., even with negotiated discounts on sticker prices. Harvoni, introduced in 2014, was $94,500 sticker price for a course of treatment. Mavyret, approved in 2017, had a comparatively cheaper price of $26,400 sticker price for a regimen, NPR reported.

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Betti said Ohio Medicaid Director Barbara Sears had previously relaxed the rules to after she became director to allow more people to receive treatment at earlier stages of hepatitis C.

Now her department is moving benchmark again so that people can get treatment as soon as they are better diagnosed, which Betti said they believe will improve the outcomes and health of the population and be more cost effective in the long term.

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