(Adds additional information on study)
By Mrinalika Roy
Aug 9 (Reuters) - Few U.S. adults diagnosed with hepatitis C virus infections receive timely treatment with antiviral drugs, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
The drugs cure hepatitis C in more than 95% of patients, but a study of more than 47,000 adults diagnosed in 2019 or 2020 found that only one-third of those with private insurance and one-quarter of Medicaid and Medicare recipients got one of these drugs within a year, according to a report in the CDC's Vital Signs. https://bit.ly/3QffUEw
Treatment rates were lowest among patients in state-administered health plans, with only 23% of Medicaid recipients and 28% of Medicare recipients receiving the drugs within a year of diagnosis, the study showed. That rate was only 35% among patients with private insurance.
Lower odds of treatment were also seen in states with Medicaid restrictions and in non-white patients.
"Everyone with hepatitis C should have access to lifesaving treatment, regardless of race, ethnicity, age or insurance status... This is critical to stop preventable deaths and prevent new infections," said CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Debra Houry.
The hepatitis C causes liver inflammation, with results ranging from mild illness to chronic, lifelong liver scarring that can lead to cirrhosis, cancer and the need for liver transplantation.
In 2016, an estimated 2.4 million people in the United States were living with chronic hepatitis C infection, according to CDC data.
Hepatitis C is a lucrative market for drugmakers. Several big pharma names including Gilead, Bristol Myers Squibb , and Abbvie have antiviral drugs in the market with prices ranging from $24,000 to $95,000 for a 12-week course.
The CDC recommends a number of steps to ensure patients receive cost-effective and timely treatments including expanding the number of primary care providers treating hepatitis C and increasing screening for the infection.
"We estimate about 40% of people with hepatitis C in the U.S. are unaware of their infection - testing is the first step to accessing curative treatment," said Carolyn Wester, director of the CDC's Division of Viral Hepatitis. (Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Nancy Lapid and Lisa Shumaker)