The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) has reached a historic milestone on the path toward ending the hepatitis C (HCV) epidemic. Thanks to Louisiana's modified pharmaceutical subscription model, more than 11,100 Louisianans have been able to access a life-saving medication that can cure HCV in just 8 to 12 weeks.
Louisiana was the first state to implement the model and it remains the most comprehensive and well-utilized model in the country. The subscription model allows the state to have unrestricted access to the medication at one price - so there is no extra cost whether hundreds of people are treated or thousands of people are treated. In July 2019, the Department entered into an innovative payment plan with Asegua Therapeutics, a subsidiary of Gilead Sciences, Inc., that allows the state to access an unrestricted amount of generic Sofvel/Epclusa (sofosbuvir/velpatasvir), a direct-acting anti-viral (DAA) medication used to treat HCV, for five years at a capped annual cost.
Unrestricted access to this drug has allowed LDH to expand HCV treatment to Medicaid and incarcerated populations, paving the way for tens of thousands of Louisiana residents to receive treatment at no cost to the individual. Of those who have accessed treatment, 9,687 are Medicaid members and 1,504 are incarcerated.
“Louisiana is proud to lead the nation in the fight against hepatitis C,” said State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter. “HCV is a significant health challenge in our community, and a safe, easy and effective cure is now available and accessible to Louisiana residents. This treatment has the potential to continue to improve health outcomes for many of our community members, and our state is making great strides toward eliminating hepatitis C.”
An estimated 2.5 million people nationwide are infected with HCV, but many do not know their status. Hepatitis C is a viral infection transmitted through blood. About half of people living with HCV present no symptoms. As the virus spreads, it causes silent damage to the liver over decades. Left untreated, HCV can lead to long-term health issues, including cancer, liver failure, diabetes, heart attack, stroke and even death. Prior to COVID-19, HCV accounted for more deaths than all other reportable infectious diseases combined, and it is 10 times more common than HIV. However, there is a cure. DAAs are safe and effective with minimal side effects. More than 98% of people are cured after taking one pill once a day for 8 to 12 weeks.
“We are so proud of what we have been able to accomplish thus far, especially in light of all the challenges we’ve faced during the pandemic, but we have a lot of work to do to reach our goal of eliminating HCV in Louisiana,” said Office of Public Health Assistant Secretary Kimberly Hood, who was instrumental in the development of the plan. “With Medicaid expansion, we are able to reach more people than ever before, so we encourage everyone who is eligible to talk to their healthcare providers about getting tested for HCV and get on the path toward treatment and cure.”
To learn more, see Louisiana’s hepatitis C elimination plan at HepCuredLA.org.