Feds worry that low-in­come peo­ple may not get hep­ati­tis cure

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

WASH­ING­TON: Con­fronting the con­se­quences of high­priced drugs, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion Thurs­day point­edly re­minded states that they can­not le­gally re­strict ac­cess by low-in­come peo­ple to rev­o­lu­tion­ary cures for liver-wast­ing hep­ati­tis C in­fec­tion. The fed­eral Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices also sent let­ters to sev­eral drug man­u­fac­tur­ers, re­quest­ing de­tails of what they are do­ing to make their med­i­ca­tions more af­ford­able. Among the com­pa­nies get­ting fed­eral let­ters was Cal­i­for­nia based Gilead Sciences, maker of mar­ket-lead­ing Har­voni.

The moves echoed gov­ern­ment pres­sure decades ago to make sure that low-in­come peo­ple cov­ered by fed­eral-state Med­i­caid pro­grams had ac­cess to ground­break­ing HIV treat­ments. It’s com­ing at a time the cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs is the lead­ing health care is­sue for the pub­lic, ac­cord­ing to opin­ion polls. Hep­ati­tis C is a vi­ral ill­ness that af­fects some 3 mil­lion peo­ple in the US and claims more lives here than AIDS. Pa­tients say it feels like a bad flu that never goes away. While the dis­ease ad­vances grad­u­ally, it can ul­ti­mately de­stroy the liver, re­quir­ing a trans­plant to save the pa­tient’s life.

Pre­vi­ous treat­ments were hit and miss, and many pa­tients couldn’t tol­er­ate the side ef­fects. With new drugs like Har­voni and Viekira Pak, pa­tients fi­nally have a choice among highly ef­fec­tive cures with min­i­mal side ef­fects. But with a course of treat­ment priced at around $100,000, the costs are strain­ing gov­ern­ment pro­grams and pri­vate in­sur­ers alike. In a no­tice to state Med­i­caid di­rec­tors, the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­minded states of their le­gal obli­ga­tions to cover pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions for the poor.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials said they are con­cerned that some states are re­strict­ing ac­cess “con­trary to ... statu­tory re­quire­ments” by “un­rea­son­ably” im­pos­ing lim­i­ta­tions on which pa­tients can get the new drugs. They ques­tioned re­quire­ments by some states that pa­tients must have ad­vanced liver dis­ease first be­fore they can get the cure. Since the new drugs cure hep­ati­tis C, doc­tors say such re­stric­tions don’t make sense from a clin­i­cal per­spec­tive. Fed­eral of­fi­cials also cited re­quire­ments by some states that pa­tients ab­stain from il­le­gal drugs and al­co­hol as con­di­tion of get­ting treat­ment. The ad­min­is­tra­tion also re­quested ex­pla­na­tions from drug com­pa­nies that make, or are work­ing on, break­through treat­ments. Al­though Med­i­caid pro­grams are en­ti­tled to sub­stan­tial sav­ings from drug mak­ers, that hasn’t been suf­fi­cient with the new hep­ati­tis C drugs. Of­fi­cials also asked for de­tails on what the com­pa­nies are do­ing to help states cover the cost of their med­i­ca­tions. — AP

CAL­I­FOR­NIA: This Thurs­day, March 12, 2009, file photo shows Gilead Sciences Inc head­quar­ters in Fos­ter City, Calif. — AP

WEST­MONT, Illi­nois: Burgess Square Health Cen­ter res­i­dent Jane Hail, 73, and cen­ter well­ness di­rec­tor Re­becca Vrba talk next to the events cal­en­dar the two cre­ate to­gether each month at the cen­ter.

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