Pennsylvania state officials Wednesday unveiled a $13 million, six-month program that will offer free hepatitis C antiviral medications for low-income individuals with a dual diagnosis of HIV and hepatitis C.
The program is a collaboration of the state departments of Health and Aging and is expected to help hundreds of underinsured or uninsured Pennsylvanians, a news release said. The pilot is funded in part by a federal program that offers low-cost prescription drugs to qualified elderly people.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (PDF), 1,419 adults and adolescents in Pennsylvania were diagnosed with HIV in 2013, ranking the state 10th among all states that year. Reported rates of acute hepatitis C increased by 100% in Pennsylvania in 2013, according to the CDC.
Pennsylvania's Special Pharmaceutical Benefits Program will implement the program, according to a news release.
Eligible individuals who are already enrolled in other prescription plans must first utilize those benefits prior to receiving help from the Special Pharmaceutical Benefits Program, according to the release.
Hepatitis C affects some 3 million people in the U.S. and claims more lives here than AIDS. More than 3 out of 4 infected adults are baby boomers.
Last month, the CMS announced that Medicare spending on breakthrough medications for hepatitis C would surpass $9 billion in 2015. The new drugs cure the disease but treatment can cost from $80,000 to $100,000.
Pennsylvania isn't the only state doing something about hepatitis C drug prices. The Massachusetts attorney general's office is investigating whether the makers of a breakthrough treatment for hepatitis C are violating state law by pricing the drug too high. Attorney General Maura Healey on Wednesday released a letter sent to the chief executive of California-based Gilead Sciences. In it, Healey said her office was examining whether the pricing constituted an unfair trade practice.
Sovaldi was the company's first hepatitis C drug. It was priced at $1,000 per pill in the U.S., or $84,000 for a course of treatment. It has since introduced Harvoni, a more expensive, next-generation pill.