Only a few years ago, stories appeared in the media about how tens of thousands of U.S. veterans were infected with hepatitis C and how the government couldn’t afford to treat them. That was then – today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is on the verge of eliminating hepatitis C infections in nearly all veterans who are willing and able to be treated.
The issue is especially timely. These veterans, many of whom contracted hepatitis C during their service in the Vietnam War as a result of battlefield injuries that required blood transfusions, are facing consequences like liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer because of this largely silent menace. In October 2014, the VA reported that more than 146,000 veterans were infected with hepatitis C. By October 2018, this number will drop to only an estimated 20,000.
So, what changed? The concern raised years ago was that the drug Sovaldi – a prescription medication capable of curing hepatitis C over a 12-week regimen – cost $1,000 per pill, an amount that could cripple the VA’s budget if all affected veterans were to be treated. At retail price, treating one veteran with Sovaldi would cost $84,000, but the VA is allowed by law to negotiate drug prices.
The VA successfully worked with Gilead Sciences, Inc., the manufacturer of this drug, to receive a reduced price to treat Veterans. The VA estimates that it has spent $748.8 million in 2017 on 31,200 treatments of hepatitis C. In 2018, that amount is expected to increase to $751.2 million to cover 28,000 treatments.
If you do the math, that means 59,200 U.S veterans will be cured of hepatitis C in 2017 and 2018 alone – for roughly $25,300 per veteran. This is a great story.
Without Sovaldi, many veterans with hepatitis C were facing certain death. Now, this major health issue for our veterans is on the verge of being eliminated thanks to this innovative treatment option and the VA’s commitment.