With hepatitis C infections on the rise and curative, but expensive, prescription drugs now available, state leaders across the country are compelled to address this public health crisis, and Louisiana and Washington are developing innovative drug-purchasing strategies within their efforts. At the same time, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is investing in patient-focused studies into hepatitis C treatment to help fill gaps in our knowledge with a patient focus to help guide future state efforts to combating this deadly liver disease.
Since 2010, the number of new infections has tripled, which experts attribute to the opioid crisis and an increase of people who inject drugs. A growing number of states are committing to eliminating hepatitis C as the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others are advocating. Such a commitment is possible due to drugs introduced in 2011 that can achieve cure rates above 95 percent when the 12-week treatment regimen is followed. However, the costs of these drugs in the United States remains high even though prices have dropped since their introduction. Although prescription drugs are just one component of states’ comprehensive public health hepatitis C elimination campaigns, the high cost of these drugs is the one of the biggest challenges facing states as they address this growing public health crisis.
Although their payment strategies are slightly different, Louisiana and Washington are exploring agreements with drug manufacturers to pay a flat fee over a contracted time period to gain unlimited access to hepatitis C drugs, rather than pay on a per unit basis, which is how most drugs are purchased. In Louisiana, corrections system populations and individuals enrolled in Medicaid and will have access to the drugs. In Washington , incarcerated individuals, Medicaid enrollees, public and school employees, individuals covered by workers compensation, and those in state hospitals will have access to the drugs as needed.
During this National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) webinar, officials from Louisiana and Washington share their approaches to using negotiated fixed price payments to ensure unlimited access to hepatitis C drugs for individuals with public health coverage.
As states forge ahead to design and implement strategies to eliminate hepatitis C and find ways to ensure access to treatment while working to contain costs, PCORI research is seeking to learn more about:
- Effective screening to identify more cases;
- What harm results, compared to no treatment;
- Direct comparison of treatments in the real world; and
- Effectiveness of care delivery models.
As results from these ongoing patient-centered research studies become available, they will help inform evolving state efforts to address the hepatitis C crisis. The introduction of the effective drug treatment has changed states’ public health approaches and incentivized Louisiana and Washington’s innovative purchasing strategies.
According to an overview of PCORI’s hepatitis C research highlighted during the webinar, researchers are hoping to learn how to most effectively engage people living with hepatitis C who use injection drugs to provide treatment that works. Patient-centered research is also seeking to learn more about the prevalence of re-infection. The evidence from these studies will help with clinical interventions, but could also be taken into consideration as states design, implement, and review their public health campaigns and treatment payment strategies.
Emerging issues, such as public health crises, require immediate attention and innovative cost-effective solutions from state officials. States’ call to action to address the rise in hepatitis C infections is an example of how they must react quickly using the information, appropriate lessons learned, and resources they have to address current crises. State officials are designing their drug contracts and plans to be as flexible as possible so they are able to adjust their approaches as new information becomes available, such as new PCOR evidence. As Louisiana and Washington learn from their prescription payment model and evidence becomes available from PCORI about treatment outcomes and approaches, state efforts will continue to evolve.