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By Amanda Conschafter, blog editor

A promising new class of therapies could reduce hepatitis C, now rampant, to a rare disease in the coming years. But these medications’ high price tags have sparked heated debate. To some, these therapies represent “a public health opportunity,” but to others they epitomize exorbitant pharmaceutical costs. To ensure that the escalating public health dialogue addresses issues of patient access, the Alliance for Patient Access introduced this week its Hepatitis Therapy Access Physicians Working Group, which promotes public policy informed by physicians’ insight.

For the 3 million Americans suffering from hepatitis C, new therapies offer an exciting promise: a cure for the chronic disease, which often results in cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. The therapies also cause fewer of the previous treatments’ side effects, such as fatigue and depression.

Yet these drugs’ high prices incite controversy. Public health officials worry that treating the vast number of hepatitis patients will overwhelm state Medicaid budgets. And Senator Bernard Sanders, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, reportedly plans to hold a congressional hearing on the impact of treatment costs for veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs reportedly has placed 5,300 veterans on the Hepatitis C treatment sofosbuvir since the department added the therapy to its formulary in March; 225 veterans start on the treatment each week.

Others, however, argue that the long-term costs of hepatitis C care, potentially including a liver transplant for patients with liver cancer, far outweigh the short-term costs of treatment. And new research from Stanford University suggests that hepatitis C therapies actually prove cost effective for state prison populations.

As new hepatitis C therapies emerge, and the debate on costs and value continues, AfPA’s Hepatitis Therapy Access Physicians Working Group offers the collective insight of hepatologists, gastroenterologists, infectious diseases specialists and other clinicians treating patients suffering from hepatitis. The group engages in public dialogue and creates educational materials to inform policymakers as they consider important questions about access to hepatitis C therapies.

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