Life saving drug out of reach for some patients with Hepatitis C

TOLEDO, Ohio (13abc Action News) - Imagine having a potentially fatal disease that there is a cure for.

There is a medication that can cure it! But your insurance won't pay for it until it's starting to cause damage to your body.

That's the scenario for tens of thousands of people diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, leading to serious liver damage and even liver cancer. It is spread through contaminated blood.

It is most often spread through the sharing of needles among intravenous drug users, but anyone born between 1945 and 1965, unregulated tattoo parlors or sex with an infected person can cause it.

There are six different drugs that have come to the market over the last three years that effectively cure the virus in up to 99 percent of patients.

The challenge is the cost which can run upwards of $80,000 for an eight to 16 week course. Until very recently Medicaid wouldn't cover the cost unless the patient was displaying active liver disease such as cirrhosis.

Promedica gastroenterologist Dr. Michael Basista says "It's more costly to treat the liver conditions it causes such as liver cancer, and even if you take the patients who don't have cirrhosis, if they pass it onto somebody else that's a communicable disease, and now you're infecting other members of the population."

Dr. Basista says there is a newer drug on the market to treat Hep C, and the cost is considerably less at roughly $27,000 for the full treatment.

This is now being covered by Medicaid for patients that are just starting to show liver involvement. He describes this as a step forward, but we have a long way to go on this front. "I now pay one person on my staff to negotiate with insurance companies full time," says Basista.