Medicare Struggling With Hepatitis-C Cure Costs

Kaiserhealthnews: MAY 12, 2014

Walter Bianco has had hepatitis-C for 40 years, and his time is running out.

“The liver is at the stage next to becoming cirrhotic,” the 65-year-old Arizona contractor says. Cirrhosis is severe scarring, whether from alcoholism or a chronic viral infection. It’s a fateful step closer to liver failure or liver cancer.

If he develops one of these complications, the only possible solution would be a hard-to-get liver transplant. “The alternative,” Bianco says, “is death.”

Previous drug treatments didn’t clear the virus from Bianco’s system. But it’s almost certain that potent new drugs for hep-C could cure him.

However, the private insurer that handles his medication coverage for the federal Medicare program has twice refused to pay for the drugs his doctor has prescribed.

Doctors are seeing more and more patients approaching the end-stage of hep-C infection. “There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t have a story very similar to Mr. Bianco’s,” says Dr. Hugo Vargas of Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ, his liver specialist. Read More