A new CDC Vital signs report finds that very few people diagnosed with hepatitis C are being treated, despite the availability of drugs capable of curing this viral infection. According to CDC estimates:
- Overall, fewer than 1 in 3 people with health insurance receive direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment for hepatitis C within a year of diagnosis.
- Treatment is lower among patients in state-run Medicaid plans, with fewer than 1 in 4 Medicaid recipients (23%) receiving treatment within a year of diagnosis.
- Additionally, Medicaid recipients in states that restrict access to hepatitis C treatment are 23% less likely to receive treatment than Medicaid recipients in states without restrictions.
Hepatitis C is curable with well-tolerated oral medications. Without treatment, hepatitis C can cause liver disease, liver cancer, and death. Treatment prevents illness and death, stops the spread of hepatitis C, and saves costs. In 2019, hepatitis C contributed to the deaths of more than 14,000 people in the United States.
- For the past few years, annual CDC hepatitis C data has shown the highest rates of new infections among adults under 40, indicating that treating this group is critical. However, this new analysis found that adults under the age of 40 have the lowest treatment rates by age group.
- Among those under the age of 40, hepatitis C is most commonly transmitted through injection drug use.
All people with hepatitis C should have access to life-saving treatment, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, or insurance status. What these data tell us is that, at best, only one in three people is treated within a year of being diagnosed and we need to reduce barriers and get more people treated for hepatitis C in our country. This is critical to stopping preventable deaths and preventing new infections.”
Dr. Debra Houry, MD, MPH, CDC Acting Senior Deputy Director
To ensure that people diagnosed with hepatitis C receive treatment, health care providers, insurers, policymakers, and public health professionals must:
- Eliminate eligibility restrictions and prior authorization requirements that make it difficult for people with hepatitis C to access treatment that will cure the infection.
- Provide treatment where people already receive services, such as primary care offices, community clinics, syringe service programs, substance use treatment centers, and correctional facilities.
- Provide treatment in the fewest number of visits possible.
- Expand the number of primary care providers treating hepatitis C.
People should not have to jump through hoops to access cost-effective, life-saving treatment. Removing barriers to treatment is a critical step, as is increasing screening for hepatitis C. We estimate that about 40% of people with hepatitis C in the US are unaware they are infected; Testing is the first step to accessing curative treatment.”
Carolyn Wester, MD, MPH, Director, Division of Viral Hepatitis, CDC
The CDC recommends that everyone get tested for hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime and that people with ongoing risk factors for hepatitis C get routine, regular testing.
- To find free hepatitis C testing in their area, people can visit cdc.gov.
- People diagnosed with hepatitis C should talk to a provider to start treatment and get cured.
- Those who do not have insurance or cannot afford treatment can explore patient pharmacy assistance programs and cost-sharing assistance programs.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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