by Amanda Conschafter, blog editor
Treatment options for U.S. veterans battling hepatitis C just got better. According to a February 24 memorandum, the Department of Veterans Affairs now provides access to hepatitis C cures for all veterans – regardless of the stage of their liver disease. With the aid of increased congressional funding, the VA will end earlier protocols that allowed only veterans with advanced fibrosis to receive curative treatment.
The memorandum directs VA health care facility managers to “take immediate steps to ramp up treatment to the maximum possible capacity.” The directive is a welcome departure from the VA’s previous stance on access. Though Congress initially provided the VA $2.7 billion to treat veterans with hepatitis C, only 15 percent of those patients received the cure. At one point, the VA even began to shift patients to private care under the Veterans Choice Program to avoid the budget complications of treating patients in house.
Congress appropriates the VA’s medical budget one year in advance, so the VA may not have foreseen the spike in spending required in 2015 to cure the roughly 180,000 veterans who have hepatitis C. In response, Congress provided emergency funds, which the VA used largely to treat patients in direst need.
Now the 2016 appropriations bill, approved in December 2015, lends even more substantial federal support – $1.5 billion. The added funding will allow more veterans to access curative treatments for hepatitis C, which carry over a 90 percent success rate.
Veterans are infected with hepatitis C at a rate five times that of the general population. Many contracted the disease through blood transfusions or blood contact during combat.