Years after a cure became available for hepatitis C, infections are skyrocketing. Recent data shows a 3-fold jump in the annual rate of hepatitis C cases since 2009. The trends suggests that access challenges for infected patients persist.
The alarming rise in hepatitis C infection rates has public health officials reevaluating their approach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued expanded screening recommendations in a new report. The recommendations include testing for nearly all adults at least once in their lifetime and women again during each pregnancy. Previous recommendations applied only to at-risk persons.
Increased testing is important to combat hepatitis C. Infected people often don’t show symptoms and can unknowingly transmit the virus. In fact, 40% of people with hepatitis C don’t even know they have the disease. Testing is a powerful tool for diagnosing and isolating. It can also help connect patients to a cure, moving toward eradicating the virus across society.
But patients with hepatitis C may not be able to access treatment, even with a diagnosis. Insurance companies can hold treatment out of reach by burdening patients with high out-of-pocket costs. Meanwhile, some Medicaid systems still maintain multi-step prior authorization processes that often block access for everyone except the sickest patients. While many state Medicaid systems are moving toward less restrictive policies and aligning with current treatment guidelines, challenges remain.
Despite barriers, experts and public health officials remain committed to eliminating hepatitis C. Several states are exploring innovative payment models as part of a comprehensive elimination plan. These strategies help make curative treatment accessible to as many patients as possible.
By implementing CDC testing recommendations and improving access to treatment, policymakers can reverse infection trends and move toward ending the hepatitis C epidemic.