The Department of Veterans Affairs will now be able to treat all veterans who have hepatitis C instead of restricting treatment to only the sickest.
While getting access to expensive hepatitis C drugs has been a source of controversy, it looks like veterans will have an easier time getting the treatment.
After receiving additional funding from Congress at the end of 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is now able to expand treatment of hepatitis C virus to all veterans in the health system who have the disease. In addition to the increased funding, reduced drug prices as more competition comes onto the market has contributed to the department being able to treat all of its sick veterans.
“We’re honored to be able to expand treatment for Veterans who are afflicted with hepatitis C,” VA Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin said in a statement. “To manage limited resources previously, we established treatment priority for the sickest patients.”
So far the VA has treated more than 76,000 veterans infected with hepatitis C and cured approximately 60,000. There are approximately a total of 174,000 veterans in the VA health system who have hepatitis C, and Military Times reported that roughly 60% of them served during the Vietnam era. In fiscal year 2016, the VA anticipates spending $1 billion on hepatitis C drugs.
In a press release, Merck, which introduced its hepatitis C drug Zepatier at a much lower price than Gilead Science’s Sovaldi and Harvoni and AbbVie’s Viekira Pak, applauded the move by the VA.
“This is a good example of how government and industry can work together toward a shared goal in the best interests of public health—particularly for our Veterans who are so deserving. We are thankful and privileged to have worked in partnership with the VA to help accelerate access to chronic hepatitis C treatment for America’s Veterans,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and CEO, Merck. “The VA is now leading the way for the U.S. in showing what is possible in the fight against chronic hepatitis C.”