The Costly Treatment for HCV

FDA has now approved Hepatitis C (HCV) drugs for children ages 12 to 17, which speed recovery and treatment. HCV is a blood-borne infection, causing inflammation to the liver, which can lead to liver failure, cancer and ultimately death. While HCV is attributed to sharing needles, which results in transferring contaminated blood, 20% of children get it from drug use. With HCV, one can become infected and not notice the symptoms until much later.

Research indicates that around 23,000 to 46,000 children are infected with HCV.  A baby only has a 6% chance of getting it while in their mother’s womb, and most children can clear the virus on their own by the age of 7. Those who do not clear the virus by the time they are two years old are chronically infected with HCV. Two drugs that the FDA has approved, and which have been highly effective thus far, are Harvoni and Solvadi. Harvoi and Solvadi are direct anti-acting antiviral drugs that prevent the virus, HCV, from multiplying, basically curing HCV. In clinical trials used on affected children, the two drugs have managed to eliminate all traces of the virus in the time frame of twelve weeks. Initially, the drugs were not even meant for children, causing doctors to be very hesitant in prescribing them before FDA approval.

As great as this may seem, the price for the drugs are costly. When the drugs first came out, the price was up to 100,000 dollars in the course of treatment. Medicaid restricted access to the drugs, and approved access to only those who had liver damage before treatment. Luckily, federal law states that Medicaid programs must cover “early and periodic screening, diagnostic, and treatment services” for children under 21.

HCV drugs treat a large population and there should be better access to expensive treatments. Because President Trump advocates for lowering drug prices, patients affected with HCV get the chance to access the otherwise expensive treatment. In 2015 alone, federal health programs spent more money on drugs for HCV than for any other drug. The Center for Medicaid and Medicare reported that Medicare Part D spent at least 7 billion dollars on the drug Harvoni, and Medicaid spending 2.2 billion.

The American Liver Foundation states that children with HCV should be receiving hepatitis A and B vaccinations, along with an annual influenza vaccine. Because children with HCV don’t usually exhibit obvious symptoms, their pediatricians should continue to monitor their growth and nutrition, and should have periodic screening of liver function through blood tests. Approving the drugs that cure HCV will significantly help children who might otherwise end up suffering from it; however, it’s important to keep in mind that the cost for the drugs are still expensive, and it cannot be given to children under the age of 12.