Experts on hepatitis C will present to lawmakers next Tuesday about the disease and how to prevent its spread in the Ocean State. Their presentation comes as state officials look for ways to pay for the growing cost of hepatitis C medications.
The high cost of new hepatitis C drugs like Sovaldi could cost Rhode Island’s Medicaid program tens of millions of dollars over the next year. That’s partly because the drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars for a full course, and partly because so many Rhode Islanders could benefit from taking them. It’s part of what’s driving up Medicaid spending and widening a state budget deficit.
At the presentation, lawmakers will hear from two doctors who treat patients with hepatitis C plus a Brown University professor who studies the disease.
Many public health advocates say states should expand access to the new drugs, which have reportedly high cure rates. Critics say the cost is prohibitive.
Medicaid receives an automatic discount on certain drugs, but even with the federally mandated discount, the drugs are still more than $60,000 for a full course.
Rhode Island's Medicaid program, like other Medicaid programs around the country, has instituted a pre-authorization requirement for drugs like Sovaldi, Gilead's new hepatitis C drug. A pre-authorization requires doctors and patients to obtain approval before writing a prescription, and that approval is contingent on the stage of the patient's liver disease, current alcohol or drug use, and willingness to sign an agreement about sticking with the treatment.